Thursday, 1 October 2015
Finance (Tax Appeals) Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)
Before the adjournment, I was dealing with the provisions of Part 40A. Among other things, it facilitates a more active case management approach by the Appeal Commissioners. In straightforward cases, they will not be required to hold a hearing but can adjudicate and determine the appeal based on paper submissions, subject to the agreement of the taxpayer to this approach. The Appeal Commissioners will be able to dismiss appeals where the taxpayer does not co-operate with them by, for example, providing information such as accounts requested by them. Responsibility for the preparation of a "case stated" for an appeal to the High Court, subject to a time limit, is being given to the Appeal Commissioners themselves instead of the parties to the appeal. Increased transparency and certainty will result from the requirement that all Appeal Commissioners' determinations must be published.
Part 40A contains provisions relating to whether a hearing, or part of a hearing, is to be held in public or in private. The default position is that all hearings are to be held in public, subject to exceptions relating to, for example, issues involving public order or sensitive issues. However, the Appeal Commissioners must hold a private hearing, or a part-private hearing, where an appellant submits a request for this.
Part 5 deals with consequential amendments to the Act of 1997 and certain other enactments. The Part contains amendments to 137 separate sections and Schedules in the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. A consequence of the changes being made to the appeal process is the need to make a large number of consequential amendments to provisions relating to appeals in the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 and in various other taxation Acts contained in Schedule 2. While there are a large number of individual amendments, given they are being made in relation to several different types of taxes and affect a wide range of provisions, most of these are of a similar nature. For this reason, each individual amendment is not explained. The most common amendment is that necessitated by the fact that, under the reformed system, a taxpayer will have to appeal directly to the Appeal Commissioners and not via Revenue as currently happens. Various cross-references that are no longer relevant are being removed - for example, references to Part 40 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 which is being phased out and replaced with the new Part 40A.
Another type of amendment will clarify and make more explicit a right of appeal that is currently only implicitly stated in the various tax and duty Acts. A valid appeal under the revised appeal process will require a specific right of appeal to be given in the relevant tax and duty Act. The opportunity presented by the reform of the appeal process is being taken to rectify any anomalies and inconsistencies that currently exist and to standardise as far as possible the appeal provisions for the various taxes and duties. One example of such standardisation relates to the number of days allowed for the making of an appeal; 30 days is the usual time limit but this has not been standard across all of the taxes and duties. Another example is the alignment of the preconditions for the making of an appeal against different types of Revenue assessments - for example, the requirement to have submitted outstanding returns to Revenue and to have paid the part of the tax liability not in dispute before an appeal can be made.
The Appeal Commissioners are a body with a long lineage, predating the foundation of the State - in fact, dating back to the Act of Excise 1662. The Minister for Finance appoints Appeal Commissioners by virtue of section 850 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. Effectively, the Minister has had discretion as to who was appointed and on what terms, subject only to laying details of the appointment before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Bill proposes to change this by stipulating that appointments will be made by the Minister following an open competition run by the Public Appointments Service, PAS. A recruitment process for new Appeal Commissioners has been conducted by the PAS at my request as the current commissioners have reached retirement age. This competition was conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Bill and I expect to make appointments over the coming weeks.
The Appeal Commissioners role is to act as an independent administrative tribunal in adjudicating disputes between taxpayers and the Revenue Commissioners. The legislation will enhance the independence of the Appeal Commissioners, increase transparency and provide a more efficient appeal system in tax disputes to the benefit of compliant taxpayers and the Exchequer alike. I commend this Bill to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on this important Bill. While I would take issue with some aspects of it, I welcome the fact that the system of tax appeals is to be reformed and modernised. There is no doubt that a comprehensive and fair tax appeals system is required. Figures released to me by the Minister for Finance earlier this year showed that 26% of tax appeals in 2012 and 2013 were decided in favour of the taxpayer, showing that the Revenue does get it wrong sometimes. The current system is beset by unforgivable delays. These are unacceptable from the perspective of individual taxpayers who seek an independent appeal of Revenue decisions but they also tie up hundreds of millions of euro of revenue for the State pending a determination by the appeal commissioners. The Department of Finance confirmed to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform that, as of last January, Revenue estimated that €770 million was in question where assessments had been raised but collection could not proceed pending resolution of the disputed issues. At any time, the total amount of tax that is in dispute is in excess of €1 billion when account is taken of tax not yet assessed pending the outcome of some other case which is under appeal, as well as claims to repayment which are disputed by Revenue.
The level of delay is astonishing. In the case of almost 600 appeals, more than five years have elapsed since the appeal was lodged, with almost 30 of these cases under appeal for more than ten years. The joint committee was told of one incredible case involving a transaction which took place in 1991. It is almost beyond belief that, under the current system, it took until 2011 before this case was resolved. The case in question was eventually concluded in the Supreme Court after 20 years of working its way through the various stages of the appeal process. While that may be an extreme example, it highlights the flaws in the existing system. Clarity in regard to tax law is essential in a modern economy.
The Deloitte European tax survey published in 2013 sought the opinions of the heads of taxation of 1,000 companies across Europe and respondents were asked what changes to tax legislation would have the greatest positive effect on their country’s competitiveness. Simplification of the tax system was the preferred option of 36% of respondents. It is interesting, however, that the most popular measure, which attracted the support of 44% of respondents, was increasing certainty about the future of the tax system. In the context of competitiveness, certainty and simplification of the system were even more important to these respondents than a reduction in tax rates.
It is, therefore, very welcome that this legislation will require an appeal commissioner to publish on the Internet a written determination for each case within 90 days, rather than just announcing the decision in private to the parties concerned. This is essential in bringing certainty to the tax system, as businesses will no longer be obliged to speculate on how tax law is being applied once one appeal on a particular question has been determined by the appeal commissioners as a test case. This will also have the added benefit of potentially reducing both the workload of the appeal commissioners and ensuing backlogs. This is because the publication of a written determination in one test case might save dozens of other appellants from having to lodge appeals of their own to revisit issues that have already been decided by the appeal commissioners, unbeknownst to them and the public at large. Putting the principles involved in certain determinations on the public record will make the system far more efficient and prevent a number of appeals.
Publishing determinations also increases fairness in the appeals process. If determinations are given orally by an appeal commissioner, but no determination is made available to the public, the Revenue Commissioners have the considerable advantage of knowing about that case as a precedent but taxpayers in other cases have no way of knowing about precedents which might be detrimental to Revenue’s side of their individual case.
One development which I greatly welcome is the decision of the Government to adapt the legislation to reflect the arguments I and many others raised at the joint committee in relation to the original proposal that tax appeals would be heard in public in all cases. While the facts of all cases should be set out in the written determinations of the appeal commissioners, identifying the individual taxpayers in question in all cases would have added nothing to the process. It is very positive that the version of the Bill that before us allows an appellant to have his or her case dealt with in cameraif he or she so requests.
The initial proposal to allow the public and media attend tax appeals would have forced taxpayers to divulge their most sensitive and private tax and financial information in a public forum. This simply would have been a deterrent to many people submitting appeals. For a great number of taxpayers, it would have been too high a price to pay for making a tax appeal and many would have been forced to choose not to appeal a decision of the Revenue Commissioners in order to protect their privacy. This would be particularly unfair in circumstances where over a quarter of cases are decided in favour of the taxpayer.
My main concern about the current version of the Bill is that appeals to the Circuit Court would no longer be available. I strongly favour an amendment to the Bill which would reintroduce the Circuit Court appeal route. As matters stand, a taxpayer may appeal a finding of the appeal commissioners to the Circuit Court. This takes place as a full rehearing of the appeal before a judge of the Circuit Court. As an alternative, an appeal on a point of law may be taken to the High Court. Instead of dealing with a full rehearsal of the facts of the case, an appeal on a point of law is a very specific form of appeal, limited just to consideration of a purely legal question. The Bill removes the appeal to the Circuit Court and only allows the second form of appeal, an appeal on a point of law to the expensive forum of the High Court, and, as we all know, taking a case to the High Court can often cost €100,000 or more. No rehearing would be available on factual issues and only a purely legal question could be dealt with.
It is not open to the Government to claim that a right of appeal still exists under the Bill in circumstances where only one subset of cases could be appealed. In reality, there is no appeal if the decision relates to factual or practical matters rather than to the interpretation of legislation. This gives an extraordinary level of power to the appeal commissioners, who will be able to decide any factual issues without an avenue of appeal being available to a dissatisfied taxpayer. In removing any appeal from many decisions of the appeal commissioners, the Oireachtas might place itself in difficult constitutional territory. Our constitution only permits justice to be administered by the courts, allowing only limited functions and powers of a judicial nature to be given by law to non-judicial bodies. I would have grave reservations as to whether the appeal commissioners could be regarded as having only limited powers of a judicial nature if they can decide on factual questions in a multi-million euro tax case, with no option to appeal to the courts available.
Two concerns that exist with the current provisions on appeals to the Circuit Court are the absence of specialist judges with expert tax knowledge and the considerable delays that exist in some Circuit Court areas. One suggestion that may resolve these issues would be that a small number of dedicated Circuit Court judges could take responsibility for hearing tax cases locally throughout the country, with the benefit of strong case management powers and separate tax appeal lists to eliminate delays. I remain to be convinced, however, that Circuit Court judges who deal with complex legal and factual issues on a daily basis are not eminently qualified to deal with appeals on taxation matters. While the appeal commissioners may constitute an expert tribunal on technical taxation matters, the Circuit Court is even more of an expert tribunal in determining factual disputes and deciding cases on the merits. Further, the evidence given to the joint committee during pre-legislative scrutiny was that Circuit Court judges have ample experience to deal with the sort of matters they would face in these appeals.
I am also uncomfortable with the attitude that has been taken to delays in the Circuit Court. Delays have been used as an excuse to get rid of the Circuit Court process altogether. However, the Government should have set itself the task of designing case management procedures and other structures to eliminate delays, rather than just scrapping Circuit Court appeals altogether.
The numbers of cases appealed to the Circuit Court is so small that there should be no reason such appeals could not be dealt with in a speedy manner. The joint committee was told that only 14 cases were appealed to the Circuit Court in 2013. Some of those cases were also settled between the taxpayer and the Revenue without a hearing being necessary. In the five years from 2010 to 2014, the number of cases actually adjudicated by the Circuit Court appears to be a total of only 46. In such circumstances, there is simply no reason the Circuit Court process should not be capable of being dealt with efficiently and fairly in a short period. In the final analysis, such a small number of cases can hardly make a significant impact from the perspective of the enormous number of taxpayers dealt with by the Revenue every year. However, from the perspective of those individual appellants who have accessed an appeal in the Circuit Court, the importance of that route of appeal could be enormous. It could be the difference, for example, between a small business providing jobs locally either surviving or not.
While many cases have been decided by the Circuit Court in favour of Revenue, some have been decided in favour of the taxpayer. It seems unjust to deny those taxpayers a full appeal on the merits to the Circuit Court. In any event, the argument the current Bill would reduce delays in court appeals does not stand up to scrutiny when we look at the evidence given by the Revenue Commissioners to the joint committee. That evidence was that a hearing in the High Court could take a minimum of two years to take place. It is difficult to imagine why the issue of court delays could be used to justify forcing appeals into the High Court if delays are so long in that forum.
It is also important to note the costs of dealing with a case in the High Court can be particularly high in comparison to costs in the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court also provides a local forum for the determination of a case, whereas cases in the High Court would require a taxpayer and his or her representatives to travel to Dublin, perhaps on several occasions. The cost of an appeal to the Appeal Commissioners itself may be beyond the reach of many taxpayers, but the considerable costs of the High Court would be many multiples of that amount.
If the Circuit Court appeal is reinstated, it should be on the current basis of an in cameraappeal to remain in line with the decision to allow a taxpayer a right to have his or her appeal dealt with by the Appeal Commissioners on an in camerabasis. By eliminating the Circuit Court appeal, the Bill forces a person dissatisfied with a decision of the Appeal Commissioners to challenge it in the public forum of the High Court rather than in a private hearing in the Circuit Court. For all of the reasons I have already outlined, it is not an appropriate position in which to place taxpayers. We should not ask taxpayers to choose between having access to appeal procedures and their privacy.
On balance, Fianna Fáil welcomes the idea of modernising the tax appeal system. There are many positive elements in the Bill, including measures to increase the efficiency of the tax appeal system, the proposal in section 949U to allow a more informal appeals process with the agreement of the parties and the retention of the in camerarule for tax appeals. This is an example of the pre-legislative scrutiny phase actually having an impact. We will, however, be urging the Minister on Committee Stage to consider an amendment to provide for an appeal to the Circuit Court for those who wish to appeal factual or practical aspects of their case, rather than the narrow and purely legal appeal on a point of law to the High Court currently envisaged in the Bill.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille seo. Táimid ag fanacht air le tamall fada. Bhí sé fógraithe i 2014 go raibh sé ag teacht isteach. Caithfidh mé a rá go raibh plé agus scansáil iontach mhaith déanta ar an Bhille seo agus muid ag déileáil leis ag an choiste airgeadais. Níl mórán eolais ag an phobal mór amuigh ansin ar an Choimisinéir Achomhairc ach is oifig iontach tábhachtach í nuair atá daoine ag brath uirthi. Chuala muid ag an choiste agus chuala muid arís ón Teachta McGrath faoin mhoill a bhíonn ar an chóras sin scaití, go háirithe sa sampla a tugadh ag an choiste.
Chuala muid go mbíonn ar dhaoine fanacht ar feadh na mblianta fada le cinneadh a dhéanamh, go bhfuil moill ar an chóras, nach bhfuil sé ag obair mar is ceart, nach bhfuil sé ag obair go héifeachtúil agus nuair atá daoine ag lorg achomhairc go bhfuil siad ag baint a gcuid cásanna.
Tá cúpla cúis leis sin. B'fhéidir gur rinneadh an cinneadh contráilte sa chéad dul síos nó b'fhéidir go bhfuil eolas á thabhairt anois ag leibhéal an achomhairc nár tugadh roimhe sin. Tá an páirtí s'againne ag iarraidh go mbeadh trédhearcacht agus cothromacht ann sa chóras achomhairc do shaoránaí agus iad ag déileáil lena gcuid ghnóthaí cánach. Bhí na cainteanna miona a bhí againn ag an choiste airgeadais iontach tábhachtach. Bhí na Coimisinéirí Ioncaim againn, an Roinn Airgeadais, na páirtí leasmhara eile agus na Coimisinéirí Achomhairc iad féin. Ba chleachtadh iontach úsáideach a bhí ann agus bhí muid ábalta go leor a phlé. Tá cuid de na moltaí a tháinig as an choiste le feiceáil sa Bhille atá os comhair an Tí inniu.
Ní bhaineann an pointe seo leis an chóras seo amháin, baineann sé leis na córais eile agus na hoifigí eile atá ann freisin. Caithfear athbhreathnú rialta a dhéanamh orthu go léir. Cé go bhfuil sé seo á dhéanamh againn anois, ba chóir go mbeadh sé déanta againn cúpla bliain ó shin mar go bhfuil constaicí ansin agus gnó le hathbhreithniú agus athordú le déanamh ar an chóras sin. É sin ráite, cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I welcome this legislation. The Appeal Commissioner is not a name on the lips of every citizen but it is an important office, particularly when it falls on one to appeal a decision of the Revenue Commissioners. My party’s approach to this Bill is about seeking transparency and fairness in the appeals system and that it is open to citizens when dealing with their tax affairs. One of the most useful developments of political reform has been the pre-legislative scrutiny process. In this case, it was very beneficial to my understanding of the tax appeals system, as well as informing our views on the legislation, shaping it and allowing for some of the proposals that came out of the pre-legislative process to be taken on board. There was a long engagement between members of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance officials, the Revenue Commissioners and other stakeholders, which was useful in trashing out ideas. As a starting point, it is important that we regularly review the systems and offices we have in place. We all recognise that this review of the tax appeals office is long overdue. It is good we have legislation to make the appeals system more robust, fair and transparent but it could have been done a long time ago.
The two most contentious aspects of the Bill are the removal of private hearings of appeals and the removal of the right to appeal to the Circuit Court. The Minister’s Bill is a compromise on the first issue. As a rule now, hearings will be in public but can, on request of the appellant, be held in private. Many who work in the tax field were alarmed at the move towards a more public system. However, in a modern world, transparency should be a principle that is adhered to. I tend towards the view that all such hearings should be held in public but I accept this is a genuine compromise that has been arrived at after serious and proper consultation and debate on the issue. There are always reasons to delay the release of or redact information from the public. In most cases, the arguments are weak and are more about protecting certain people than protecting the public themselves. While there is a compromise that the appellant can request the appeal to be held in private, the reality is they will be held in private. I cannot see many people appearing before the Appeal Commissioner with the option of having the hearing held in private but deciding they want a full public hearing, particularly if it is a matter they want to hide. I am not convinced about this move and believe the original Bill had enough caveats in it to allow it to remain as is. At the committee hearings, I gave examples of political appointments made and tax rulings.
I cannot accept the refusal of the Minister to consider maintaining the right to appeal to the Circuit Court. This is a major flaw in this legislation. It is a pity because we seem to be moving in the right direction. Removing the right to appeal to the Circuit Court, however, is simply wrong. There is a policy pattern with the Government to remove the right of access to the Circuit Court for citizens. We saw this with recent customs legislation and changes to the Financial Services Ombudsman process. The idea people abuse the appeals system does not stand up to scrutiny.
The removal of the appeal to the Circuit Court is unnecessary. Its removal will prohibit many people from appealing due to the costs involved and the different legal requirement associated with a High Court challenge. I believe this to be the intention behind the proposal and it is important to state that fact. This proposal was one of probably the two most contentious issues dealt with by the committee. The Department's explanation does not stand up to the points I have made about the additional cost and the different legal requirement associated with a High Court challenge. The response to the committee's suggestion to maintain the Circuit Court option does not mention the very obvious implications I have mentioned. The argument for not adopting the committee's suggestion is that retention of the Circuit Court stage would undermine the Tax Appeals Commission stage and that the Circuit Court stage allows for a complete rehearing of the case rather than being limited to appeals of issues addressed at the Tax Appeals Commission stage. There is no reason not to have a full rehearing. The Department also states that the reformed appeals process should render the appeal to the Circuit Court judge unnecessary, would make for a speedier resolution of appeals and that the retention of the Circuit Court stage would be anomalous in the context of the proposed reforms which, it says, will provide more flexibility, transparency and for the publication of all determinations. The legal requirement associated with a High Court challenge instead of a Circuit Court one is not addressed, nor is the fact that the costs involved will deter many people. This will have to be revisited on Committee Stage. I hope we can reach an agreement on it, but it is a fundamental point and one on which my party has a strong view.
There is much to welcome in this legislation. We will have a more transparent system with decisions recorded systematically for the first time. This is a positive move. That we are stating this fact re-emphasises my point that we should have done this a long time ago, but there is no point in looking backwards. It is clear a record of decisions which would provide guidance is sensible. The claim that this new process will help unlock significant funds for the Exchequer is doubtful. In any case, such an approach is not the way to reform the appeals process. The notion presented by the Department of Finance was credibly challenged by the Appeal Commissioners during the pre-legislative process and is probably something to which we will return.
Some of the moves in this legislation are cosmetic while others are more significant and enhance the independence of the commission. That is an important step forward. The use of the Public Appointments Service rather than the Minister in the appointment process is an important move forward which I welcome. This Bill is also a timely reminder of the important work Revenue does. In the comprehensive review of expenditure, Revenue identified how, with the proper resources, it could substantially increase the tax take through a small investment in staff and training. This is something my party has called for and I hope it will be put in place. My party will support this Bill on Second Stage but we will be examining whether we will table amendments to deal with some of the issues I have raised. I wish, however, to put down a marker with regard to the appeal process to the Circuit Court and hope we can meet somewhere on the issue.
I stated at the pre-legislative stage that Revenue is an agency of the State which people fear but also respect. Many so-called pillars of society, whether financial institutions, wise economists, the Church, or politics itself, took a wild bashing over the past decade or so, but Revenue has been able to hold its head up high and has been very efficient in so doing. It is right that we are streamlining and enhancing the process and removing the blocks that exist with regard to the appeals office, but we need to ensure additional resources are provided to Revenue. I am conscious in that regard of the upcoming budget. It has proven itself, however, in terms of the resources it has obtained in the past and there is much Revenue could be doing to combat the black market.
The next speaker is Deputy Seamus Healy. The Technical Group has a 30 minute slot. I understand Deputy Healy is sharing time with Deputy Tom Fleming and Deputy Finian McGrath and I presume they will take ten minutes each.
I thank the Acting Chairman and welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on the Finance (Tax Appeals) Bill 2015. The Irish tax system is grossly unfair. The poorest people are the most highly taxed in Ireland. It is not surprising, therefore, to find we are discussing a Bill today which confines legal recourse in tax disputes to the High Court and excludes the right of appeal to the Circuit Court. This means that only the wealthiest can challenge decisions of the appeal commissioners. Taxpayers on low and middle-incomes and small, self-employed, sole traders are effectively excluded from taking an appeal given the huge cost associated with a High Court case and the exclusion of the possibility of an appeal to the Circuit Court.
The Government, Ministers, journalists and some academics are involved in systematic deception in relation to the taxation system. Fairness or equity in taxation is based on the answer to the following question: what proportion of their own income, wealth or assets does each stratum of the population pay in tax? Research from the Nevin Economic Research Institute shows that poorer people are paying out more of their income in tax as a result of indirect taxation such as VAT and excise duties. The institute states that the poorest 10% of people pay a larger share of their income in tax than the richest 10%. In other words, poorer people pay a larger share of their income than the super-rich in our society. The poorest 10% are paying 29.93% in indirect taxation as against the figure of 5.7% paid by the richest 10% of people. Over the past 12 months, we have had Ministers and journalists attempting to deceive the public into believing the opposite is the case. The trick is to pretend that income tax is the only tax and to omit the huge portion of VAT and other indirect taxes paid by the poorest in our society. There is a line of people available to spin this one, the idea and hope being the more they spin it, the more people will believe it.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, tells us we have one of the most progressive tax systems in the world while the Minister of State at the Deputy of Justice and Equality, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, tells us that the top 6% are paying 44% of the entire tax take. The Taoiseach tells us we have one of the most progressive tax systems in the world while the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, tells us we have the most progressive tax system in the OECD. It goes on and on. The fact of the matter is this is spin. Significantly wealthy, super-rich people are not paying their fair share of tax. The taxpayers on low and middle-incomes and the poor pay in tax a greater share of their income than the super-rich.
Income tax constitutes only approximately 41% of all taxation.
I believe the exclusion, particularly by Labour Party Ministers, of the VAT on the poor which was increased by this Government makes that party's statements absolutely misleading and shows it is part of a Government that is governing for, and on behalf of, the wealthy.
The reason people on large incomes pay a high proportion of all income tax, but not of their incomes, is that they have a grossly unfair proportion of all income. In fact, in reply to a parliamentary question the Minister told me that the top 10,000 income earners had an average annual income of €595,000. That was in 2012, and it has increased since then. The Minister gave further figures which showed that the top 10% of income recipients, 216,500, had a gross income of approximately €30 billion, or an average of €136,700. Their effective rate of tax was 24%. To add insult to injury, in the last budget the Minister gave a total of €7 million in tax relief to the people on an average annual income of €595,000. He gave €150 million in tax relief to the top 10% of earners in the country. This was confirmed by the press officer of the Department of Finance in a letter to The Irish Timesat the time.
This is all against a background where a recent report by the Central Statistics Office, the Survey on Incomes and Living Conditions, SILC,showing that there are 400,000 children living in households experiencing multiple forms of deprivation, with 135,000 children suffering daily deprivation. The number of children living in consistent poverty, meaning that they both are living at risk of poverty and experience deprivation, doubled from 6% to just under 12% between 2008 and 2013. What is this Government proposing to do? It is now proposing to give even more tax relief to very wealthy people in the forthcoming budget, while fuel and heating allowances are continuing at levels that were reduced by the Labour Party leader as we face into another winter.
Another issue is wealth tax. We have no wealth tax on wealthy people. Indeed, during a recent appearance on RTE, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, made much of the introduction of the local property tax on domestic dwellings as a move towards tax fairness. This is another spin. Even those with negative wealth - mortgage debt, credit card debt and car loan debt - must pay the so-called property tax. The Central Statistics Office has shown that financial assets, which exclude homes, farms and buildings, have increased by €93 billion from 2008 to 2013 and are now at €165 billion. That is €25 billion above the boom level. Not a penny in wealth tax is due on these gains, while families in negative equity must pay the so-called property tax. Of course, the distribution of wealth is grossly unfair in this county. This has been shown again in a recent Central Bank report. The top 10% of households, or 165,820 households, own 53.8% of all net household wealth or a total of approximately €300 billion, which is almost €2 million each. The vast bulk of that wealth is free of wealth tax.
At this stage, there is no point in further appeals to the Labour Party to deal with this scandal. I appeal to the trade union movement, academics and journalists to expose the scandalous deception being visited on Irish people by the Government, and particularly by Labour Party Ministers, about taxation in the service of the super-rich. I commend Mr. Fintan O'Toole on a very good beginning in this regard in yesterday's The Irish Times. The fact is that the poorest 10% of people in this country pay a bigger proportion of their income in tax than the wealthiest, super-rich 10%. That must stop. It must change, and that should start now.
The objective of this legislation is to establish an independent appeals process that will create an independent, efficient, clear and transparent system for appeals relating to decisions of the Revenue Commissioners, something which is not available at present. It is positive that this legislation is being brought forward to establish this independent agency. Such an agency should act primarily in the interests of the citizens while being fair to the tax gathering authorities of the State and tax legislation as enacted by the Oireachtas.
There are a number of positive aspects to the Bill, most notably the requirement for publication of reasoned determinations, new transparent procedures for appointment and tenure of the appeal commissioners, a better framework for progressing a case to the High Court and the proposal to publish an annual report on tax appeals. All of these changes will help ensure more effective operation of the appeals regime. However, there are important measures included in the Bill which I believe require further consideration, such as the ending of the in camerarule with proposals that all appeal hearings be held in public, the removal of the taxpayer's right to have the facts of their case re-heard at the Circuit Court, the need for clarity to be provided by the Revenue Commissioners at the time when the assessment is issued, and the importance of transitional arrangements.
The removal of the in camerarule will have a negative impact on the rights of Irish taxpayers and their access to the administration of justice. Taxpayer confidentiality is enshrined in Irish tax legislation, administration and legal practice. This has been at the heart of our tax regime for over 50 years. Taking a case to appeal is simply an extension of this process, whereby an independent arbiter, the appeal commissioner, is seeking to determine the facts of the matter before it enters the court process. The tax appeals system is not a court of law. It is a fact-finding tribunal and until the facts are determined and the case moves into the courts the taxpayer is entitled to have their affairs dealt with confidentially. In hearing an appeal the commissioners are exercising an administrative function. They are adjudicating on the quantum of tax due from the taxpayer. They are not addressing the interpretation of a point of law, which would have a wider application and public interest.
Confidentiality underpins our regime of voluntary compliance and has been a fundamental pillar of a successful Irish tax administration system. Tax compliance rates here are among the highest internationally, at up to 99% for large businesses and 83% for smaller taxpayers. While taxpayers might not always agree with the Revenue Commissioners' view on an issue, there is a widespread confidence within the tax paying community that their confidentiality will be respected when dealing with the Revenue Commissioners to resolve an issue. This understanding has been a significant contributory factor in achieving our high rates of voluntary compliance. We risk undoing a regime that has been working very effectively up to now by changing the rules on taxpayers' confidentiality.
The principle is that our tax appeals regime should be open and transparent, which is to be lauded. However, transparency can be achieved by publishing details of determinations by the appeal commissioners, with the taxpayer names simply redacted. The taxpayer does not have to be personally identified either in a public hearing or in a written determination in order to achieve transparency.
In its submission to the consultation on appeals reform, Revenue sought the hearing of cases in public as being in line with best international practice. In particular, it cited the UK tribunal regime as a model. However, there is mixed experience internationally as to whether hearings should be held in public. New Zealand is a country with a similar size population to Ireland and its hearings are held privately. A small society such as Ireland is no bigger than a large city in the United Kingdom and the two countries cannot be compared on this issue. Therefore, it is very hard to draw a comparison between the Republic of Ireland and the whole mass of Great Britain, given the context for holding hearings in public is totally different. In smaller societies, the prospect of being named in any proceedings with revenue authorities is a much greater deterrent for taxpayers. The issue here is not the number of taxpayers who actually end up taking an appeal and having their identities published; it is the number who will be deterred from doing so because of the potential impact on their business and personal reputation, particularly in a small, insular community.
When a taxpayer takes a case to appeal, he or she is exercising his or her legal right to disagree with an assessment that Revenue has raised and to have the facts determined by an independent appeal commissioner. If the taxpayer disagrees with the technical basis for Revenue’s assessment, his or her only option is to go to appeal on the matter. While he or she has not done anything wrong, there is a public perception that having legitimate tax arguments with Revenue means he or she has done something wrong, perhaps verging on the criminal, when this is not the case. Perhaps this is our legacy of 20 years of reporting on the tax defaulters list or the public debate on tax avoidance versus tax evasion that is ongoing at the moment. Whatever the reason, there is huge scope for public misunderstanding of what a tax appeal is and what it is not. If tax appeals are held in a public forum, this will naturally attract media attention and such public analysis of the taxpayer’s business affairs will undoubtedly and unfairly lead to difficulty for them.
Holding tax cases in public will mean that all aspects of a taxpayer’s sensitive, commercial and financial affairs would be in the public domain at an appeal hearing and accessible to their competitors, suppliers, creditors and customers. This could have serious implications for a person’s business and for their professional reputation and good character. A key supplier or creditor could withhold credit if they become aware that a customer has outstanding debts. The disclosure of commercially sensitive information may detrimentally impact the future prospects of the business or a person's livelihood.
Section 949Y of the heads of Bill allows the appeal commissioners to give direction that a hearing be held in camera. However, subsection (3) goes on to specifically exclude confidentiality of tax, financial and business affairs as grounds for a private hearing at the appeals commissioners' discretion. The proposed exception to the public hearing rule is, therefore, of very limited application in practice.
The Irish and international media seem not to be subject to any similar restriction from identifying either the taxpayer or the commercially sensitive information considered at the appeal. Therefore, the holding of hearings in public, with unlimited rights of reporting, renders meaningless the restrictions placed upon the appeal commissioners when making their own decisions in the public arena. Removing the in camerarule would be a very significant change to the appeals regime - in fact, it would be one of the most significant elements of any reform. Notwithstanding this fact, there was no mention of such a change in the public consultation document issued last October. The matter was, therefore, not brought to the public’s attention as one of the measures being considered for reform, yet it has now been included in the heads of Bill. There is no doubt that the removal of the in camera rule will deter taxpayers from exercising their right to appeal Revenue assessments that are excessive. In particular, it could act to disenfranchise those taxpayers who use and need the appeals system most, for example, small to medium sized business taxpayers who are such an important part of our economy.
Section 949AM provides that either party to the appeal - the taxpayer or Revenue - can only appeal a determination of the appeal commissioners to the High Court. The existing right that taxpayers have to a rehearing of the facts at the Circuit Court is thus being removed as part of this reform process. The removal of this right, combined with the prospect of hearings being played out in the public arena, compounds the deterrent for taxpayers of taking an appeal. The option of a rehearing at the Circuit Court should certainly be open to both the taxpayer and Revenue.
A tax appeal is a difficult and costly step for any taxpayer to take. In most cases, it takes time, resources and the payment of professional fees to engage in the appeals process, without any certainty of success. It is certainly not a route that is embarked on by taxpayers in a frivolous manner. One of the stated objectives of the appeals regime upon its establishment was to provide ease of accessibility for taxpayers. A taxpayer may represent himself or herself before the appeal commissioners without legal counsel or professional advice, and approximately 10% of taxpayers avail of this option. Removing the right of rehearing at the Circuit Court increases the pressure on all taxpayers to incur additional costs in engaging professional expertise, even in straightforward cases.
The only avenue open to a taxpayer dissatisfied with a decision of the appeal commissioners will now be an appeal to the High Court on a point of law. However, High Court costs are beyond the means of all but the wealthiest of taxpayers. It is estimated that the minimum costs a taxpayer must budget for in taking a case to the High Court is €100,000, which makes such an option inaccessible to most Irish businesses and individuals. Revenue’s right to appeal a decision to the Circuit Court, while limited, will also be impacted by the changes proposed.
This has the potential to increase the cost to the Exchequer of engaging in the appeals process.
A taxpayer will now have to weigh up a range of business risks, reputational risks and compliance costs in deciding even whether to enter the first stage of the appeals process. In many cases, taxpayers will determine that the risks or costs outweigh the benefits and will waive their right to appeal, even when they are certain Revenue's assessment is incorrect.
In the interests of improving the efficiency of the appeals regime, I believe there is merit in appointing several Circuit Court judges with specific expertise in tax matters whose remit would be solely tax cases. Proceedings could be centralised through the Dublin Circuit Court. This proposal would, of course, require discussion and negotiation with the Courts Service. This would facilitate an appropriate through-put of cases in a prompt and efficient manner.
Section 949Q deals with the provision of information in regard to the matter under appeal. However, I believe that the obligation to provide information on the matter under appeal rests with Revenue first at the outset of the appeals process, that is when it has issued the assessment. Under the current assessment and appeals regime, it is difficult for the taxpayer to make an informed decision about whether to appeal an assessment, because taxpayers generally have limited information on Revenue’s grounds for making the assessment. This is a matter of fundamental importance that needs to be addressed as part of this reform of the tax appeals regime.
The Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 requires a taxpayer to outline each amount or matter in the assessment with which the taxpayer is aggrieved and to provide detailed grounds for the appeal on each matter or amount when lodging a notice to appeal. There is no corresponding obligation on Revenue to provide information as to why the assessment was raised in the first place and how the tax sought in the assessment was calculated. There has been a number of cases where taxpayers have not been informed of Revenue's legal grounds and reasoning for the issue of an assessment until Revenue served its legal submissions in the weeks leading up to the hearing of the appeal itself. This places taxpayers in the impossible position of first deciding whether they should incur the time and expense of appealing a decision which has been made on an undisclosed basis and, second, or prepare for an appeal when they do not know precisely why and what they are appealing. It is critical that sufficient information is provided to the taxpayer at the beginning of the process to enable him or her to comment on the basis of the assessment and prepare a response. This is particularly important, as the onus of proof falls on the taxpayer to prove that the Revenue assessment is excessive. There are some outstanding test cases but I will not go into those matters as that would prolong this debate.
In the Irish regime, there is currently little clarity on the basis for many assessments that are issued. Not only does this mean that taxpayers are in the dark when considering whether to appeal an assessment, but it also creates inefficiencies in the system in terms of delays and in respect of the lodging of appeals that may be inappropriate and could be settled by agreement. The Taxes Consolidation Act should be amended so that Revenue is required to issue a full statement of reasons to accompany any assessment issued. This statement of reasons should clearly outline the basis for the assessment. For example, it should state the facts as Revenue understands them; the relevant statutory provisions and case law upon which Revenue relies; Revenue’s application of the statutory provisions and case law to the facts; and the basis for its computed assessment. This clarity would clearly assist the taxpayer in making an informed decision about whether to appeal any assessment. I call on the Minister for these matters to be taken into consideration when the Bill is being finalised.
I am sharing time with Deputy John Paul Phelan.
I welcome the Minister to this debate and welcome this Bill. I want to use this opportunity to deal with matters relating to tax and Revenue services and the work done by Revenue. I particularly want to refer to the concept of tax transparency. The Minister might remember me introducing the idea of tax transparency in the Dáil in 2012 during Second Stage debate on a Bill on the Government's new reform proposals. We had a three-hour debate at which the Minister and Members from each party spoke and the Bill received all-party support to go to Committee Stage. Unfortunately, due to the backlog, it has not got to that Stage yet.
Two years ago, I put a tax transparency calculator on my website and last year I set up the website, taxtransparency.ie. Tax transparency as a concept and as an acting calculator or tool on a Government website has the support of Revenue, of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and of the Members of Dáil Éireann. It works quite simply and Members could see this today ontaxtransparency.ie. A person can go to the website and calculator and fill out the appropriate fields in regard to salary and income, PAYE status, age and number of children, etc., and it will work out an approximation of the amount of tax the person pays. For example, if a person is earning €40,000 and is a PAYE worker and aged 28, he or she will pay approximately €9,500 in tax. The website then breaks this down into how the Government spends that person's money across each Department or even further, into simple euro and cent.
For example, a 28 year old man earning €40,000 and paying €9,500 in tax would see on the website that approximately €380 of that went to jobseeker's allowance. Is that too much or is it enough? He could then compare that to the €1,800 of his tax that is going to health and consider that in the light of the €1,200 he might already be spending on private health insurance. He would see that €186 of his tax is spent on the Garda and might think this is quite low. He would see how a similar amount, €148, is spent on road maintenance and might consider whether more should be spent on that. He would see that only €11 is spent on the costs of the Oireachtas, that is all of the offices, all of the staff and all Members. Perhaps he would consider that a small amount to pay for the strong democracy we have. He would see that €66 is spent on international co-operation, including on Irish Aid. He might conclude that out of €9,500 in tax, €66 is a small price to pay to help the poorest people in the world. This person would also see that roughly €1,000 of that €9,500 goes to service the national debt. This indicates for us how important it is to close the deficit and reduce the debt burden as quickly as we can.
These figures are important, because they inform citizens in an understandable way how the Government is spending their money. They tell the people what choices the Government is making and that information is empowering. Good governance requires citizens to be informed and empowered. I believe the Government has a responsibility to let people know how it is spending their money. It is their right to know. It is then up to the people to decide and make a judgment as to whether that is right or not. The more informed and involved our citizens, the better the politicians we will have and the better Parliament and Government as a result.
Open government means good government. Therefore, transparency must be at the centre of everything we do. This ties in nicely with the proposals for an independent budgetary oversight office. This is something many of us have sought over a number of years and is something to which the Minister is now committed. This is about getting parliamentarians more involved in the detail of the figures and the choices facing us. In tandem with that, we can get individual citizens involved, informed and debating also. The United Kingdom and the United States do this. In the United States, the tax transparency site is hosted on the White House website. If I was a US citizen - I have tried this - I could enter a fictional amount of tax I might pay and the site would tell me, for example, how much of that money was going towards the nuclear deterrent.
That is incredible stuff, and it is very easy to do. A simple tax transparency calculator could be put up on merrionstreet.ie for less than €1,000 and would take less than two days' work. That is a small amount considering the kind of information it would be giving back to citizens and how it would help us all address the choices that will face us into the future. We should be bringing the majority of people with us regardless of what party is in power. It is important that citizens are engaged, involved and supportive.
The figures are already up on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform website. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, has put them up. It is very interesting to see, but very complicated, even for people who regularly look at these things, be it on the public accounts committee or elsewhere. We need to be proactive and provide this raw information in an intelligible and accessible form to citizens, very easily and very quickly.
The Minister of State, Deputy Harris, might convey my suggestion to the Minister, Deputy Noonan. We spoke again earlier today about how he might, in his budget day speech, make a simple commitment to tax transparency by Christmas. All it takes is the hosting of this simple calculator, which we already have online. Other people have also done it; publicpolicy.ie has a version. We should put it on merrionstreet.ieand give it to the citizens so they can see how the Government spends their money in euro and cents, allowing them to get involved in the debate themselves.
To clarify, it is a breakdown of income tax, USC and PRSI. The principles of the calculator can be extended to VAT or anything else. The income tax breakdown is a very simple thing to do which could have a big impact. It will not change the world but will empower our citizens and give transparency to what the Government is doing, including everyone in the project that is our democracy. It does not require any legislation. Revenue supports it, as does the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which has already put the information online. The Dáil supported the Bill - although it is not necessary now - when it was up for Committee Stage debate.
I ask that the commitment be made to tax transparency in line with the budgetary oversight office. That office will take a few months and tax transparency will take a few days but we could have it up by Christmas. It would be a positive step.
I support the measures included in the Bill. Pretty much all of the speakers who have addressed it have had positive things to say. In terms of the institutions of the State, the Revenue Commissioners do an important job very well. However, this Bill can ensure they have an enhanced appeals mechanism for tax cases. That is to be welcomed. There are other technical changes included in the Bill which outline how the new appeals mechanism will work in practice.
Like many previous speakers, I want to use the opportunity to say a few things in advance of the budget. I do not think I was here when Deputy Eoghan Murphy introduced his Bill on tax transparency. I have no difficulty supporting it. It is primarily about taxes earned on income. It would be more difficult for people to calculate how much indirect tax they pay in VAT at different rates for different products. It might be more correctly termed an income tax transparency Bill, as it includes USC and PRSI. It is a good idea that people would know where the money they contribute to the State from their incomes ends up.
When it comes to income tax, Ireland has the fairest system in the world. I heard Deputy Healy saying this was rubbish earlier. He quoted Fintan O'Toole and others. It is not the Government saying it; the OECD has been saying it for years. Ourselves and Israel, of all places, are up there consistently in terms of income tax as having the fairest systems in the world. That is an outside verified fact.
Unlike Deputy Healy, I come to the question of taxation with the view that everybody, lower, middle and higher paid, should pay less tax. I suppose he has profoundly held ideological views that certain sectors of the population, at least, should pay more tax. I do not want to rehash everything we have gone through as a country, but in the last few years, direct and indirect tax rates have increased substantially.
In last year's budget, changes were made to the top tax rate and to the universal social charge, which was welcome. In the upcoming budget, the Government should focus its resources on substantially reducing the universal social charge and devising a road map as to how this temporary measure introduced at the height of the recession can be phased out. In addition, the income threshold at which people go on to the top rate of tax is substantially lower here than for most of our neighbours in the European Union. I think it is something like €33,000 or €34,000 here that puts people into the top rate of income tax. In Britain, it is something like £60,000. People who are earning €33,000 or €34,000 are not well off and should not be paying tax at the top rate. Income tax bands and USC are the two areas on which the Government should primarily focus.
The reduction in VAT to 9% for the hospitality sector has been a resounding success. I suspect it has more than paid for itself in increased employment and economic activity. That sector is an important part of our economy and is spread right across the country. The Government should, if resources allow, look at our VAT rates in the future. We have quite high VAT rates. One thing on which I do agree with Deputy Healy is that it stands to reason that people on lower incomes end up paying proportionately more in VAT and other indirect taxes than those on higher incomes. This is something which should ultimately be addressed.
We should look at capital tax rates, which have increased substantially in the last few years. It has been borne out by our own history; when capital gains tax was halved in the late 1980s or early 1990s, the actual amounts taken in under that tax heading increased substantially because it allowed for a lot more activity. People were prepared to sell things and move around a bit more of their capital. The Exchequer benefited greatly from that reduction.
Our levels of DIRT tax are very high and were increased substantially during the recession. This should be addressed in the coming budget if possible, or otherwise in the next one - whoever is in government: hopefully it will be the same Government.
Perhaps it is again time to start encouraging people to save. I can understand that at the height of the recession the Government's desire, expressed in policy, was to take in more tax revenue through DIRT and encourage people to spend money to provide some sort of economic stimulus. We have probably reached a point where we need to at least have a discussion on encouraging people to save for the future.
I am struck by the fact that in the past month or so I have received a fair few items of correspondence from constituents in Carlow and Kilkenny on this matter. They are people who had modest enough incomes and who saved money for their retirement with a view to having some sort of income from those savings. They saw the rate of DIRT charged increase substantially to the point where the part of their income that would have derived from interest on their savings has been substantially reduced. We have probably reached a time in the recovery of the country at which we need to encourage people once more to consider the prospect of saving. One of the ways of doing that would be by reducing the rate of tax we currently charge on people's savings, which is really too high.
The Minister for Finance and I sincerely thank the Members on all sides who contributed to this debate. As the Minister stated, the reform of the tax appeals system will positively reform the role, functions and structure of the Office of the Appeal Commissioners and the tax appeals system. The Minister and I appreciate the welcome of various Deputies for this reform process. It will serve a dual function, first in providing transparency and increased certainty for taxpayers and, second, bringing about an enhanced and cost-effective appeal mechanism for tax cases, taxpayers and the Exchequer. It is timely to proceed with this reform process, which will see appeals being brought through the initial stages in a more streamlined fashion, with enhanced case management procedures to facilitate a more efficient and structured flow of appeals.
I will now outline the main reforms that are being introduced. The first is the formal confirmation of the independence of the commission and its appeal commissioners in the performance of their functions. There will be a new focus on flexible and active case management by the appeal commissioners in order to facilitate more expeditious and efficient processing and disposal of appeals. The appeal commissioners will now be obliged to try to conduct proceedings in as informal and flexible a manner as possible to facilitate the settlement of appeals by agreement between the parties and to avoid undue delay in dealing with appeals, except where this would be at the expense of not giving proper consideration to a matter under appeal. The appeal commissioners will have the discretion to dispense with hearings and to make their determination based on written submissions in the case of straightforward matters, subject to the agreement of the parties to the proceedings.
While public hearings will be the default arrangement, part or all of a hearing will be held in private on application by an appellant. I consider that this will meet the concerns of stakeholders, and particularly concerns voiced by Deputies on behalf of small business people. Concerns were expressed that small shopkeepers, for example, could find themselves involved in a public hearing, perhaps with customers in attendance, and with material from the hearing being reported locally. Such publicity could undermine their business, even if the appeal were upheld. The Minister appreciates Deputy Michael McGrath’s comments in this regard but also notes Deputy Pearse Doherty’s views on the need for transparency.
Currently, not all determinations are published by the appeal commissioners. Those that are published are available on the appeal commissioners' website. However, the Revenue Commissioners, as a party to each tax appeal, would have access to all appeal commissioners' determinations, which may give rise to a perception of advantage for Revenue. To promote transparency, a statutory obligation will now be imposed on the appeal commissioners to publish a report of their determinations in each appeal on the Internet within 90 days after notification of the parties. Published determinations will be suitably anonymised in cases where the hearing does not take place in public. I note Deputy Michael McGrath's support for this proposal.
Publication of determinations and of more information will provide taxpayers and tax practitioners with a valuable resource. This body of determinations will assist in interpreting tax statutes and be available for reference. The appeal commissioners will be able to dismiss an appeal where they consider it to be frivolous or where a taxpayer does not comply with directions given by the appeal commissioners in respect of the conduct of the proceedings.
Appeal commissioners will have a renewable fixed term of officeof seven years. The Minister for Finance will have power to reappoint a commissioner for a second, and final, term of seven years. However, there will be a built-in mechanism to strengthen commissioners' independence providing that, where a commissioner is not so reappointed, the Minister must lay the reason for this before the Oireachtas. The Bill contains provisions for the removal of a commissioner from office for a variety of specified reasons.
A requirement will now lie with the appeal commissioners to submit annual reports to the Minister for Finance, who will lay them before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Importantly, this rectifies an accountability deficit and will enable assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of the office in regard to the adjudication and determination of disputes and other matters. Importantly, decisions of the appeal commissioners will now be final and conclusive, with entitlement to appeal to the High Court where the appellant or Revenue considers that the appeal commissioners erred in their determinations on a point of law only and not in regard to the facts. Statutory responsibility for preparation of a case stated for the opinion of the High Court will now fall to the appeal commissioners on receipt of a notice from the party seeking to appeal.
With regard to the proposed removal of the Circuit Court stage from the appeals process, which was referred to by Deputies Michael McGrath and Pearse Doherty, it can be validly argued that a complete rehearing of an appeal, as if the appeal commissioners had never made their determination, has several important disadvantages. It results in additional delay, particularly in regard to appeals outside the Dublin circuit, where it is difficult to get a case listed for hearing. Second, it has the effect of undermining the appeal commissioners stage of the process where a taxpayer does not fully engage and uses the initial hearing as a dry run for the Circuit Court. Moreover, the right to a rehearing can encourage taxpayers to make a second attempt at victory, even in circumstances where there are no real grounds for dissatisfaction with the appeal commissioners' determination. This runs counter to the principle that cases should be resolved as quickly and effectively as possible and have regard to the fact that court time is a scarce resource.
The reformed appeal system will be better resourced and more efficient with, for example, more flexible and active case management by the appeal commissioners, written and published determinations and a revised case stated procedure. There is little transparency in the current Circuit Court stage of the process in that hearings are held in private. Written determinations are rarely given and are not generally published. The process can also introduce delays into the overall appeal process.
There are a number of other tribunals or bodies from which there is only provision for further appeal, on a point of law, to the High Court, but not to the Circuit Court. These include An Bord Pleanála, the Financial Services Ombudsman, the Office of the Information Commissioner, the Social Welfare Appeals Office and the Workplace Relations Commission. Having heard and carefully considered all the views of stakeholders and of Oireachtas Members at the pre-legislative stage, the Minister and I remain of the view that retention of the Circuit Court stage could undermine the reform of the appeal process.
Provision is made for the giving of directions by the appeal commissioners to parties - for example, requiring a party to provide specified information, consolidating multiple appeals, holding preliminary hearings and adjourning proceedings. Time limits are streamlined and provisions are put in place, on request, for making persons other than the appellant party to the appeal, and for the dismissal of frivolous appeals.
It is fair to say many of Deputy Healy’s comments related to tax issues rather than the appeals process itself. The Minister for Finance will, of course, bear these views in mind in the context of the budget. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for the Deputy to raise these matters during the budget debate and associated debates rather than in this debate. We would obviously disagree significantly with the ideology brought to the debate by Deputy Healy but we will, I am sure, have an opportunity to debate that during the budget process.
I welcome Deputy Eoghan Murphy’s comments regarding www.taxtransparency.ie. I recall speaking on his Bill in this regard during a Friday sitting at a relatively early point in the lifetime of this Dáil. Second Stage was passed in the House. I will ensure that the Deputy’s views on making this tool available to all taxpayers, as outlined in the House this afternoon, are brought to the attention of the Minister for Finance in advance of budget 2016.
I will ensure that the views expressed by my colleague, Deputy John Paul Phelan, on the forthcoming budget, on some important matters regarding taxation and on where taxation can play an important role, not only in the redistribution of income - which seems to be the obsession of most media debates on tax - but also as a tool to create more jobs, investment and economic growth, are also brought to the attention of the Minister for Finance. I am sure he will give consideration to them in the remaining days before the budget.
I commend the Bill to the House.