Finance Bill 2010: Report Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 704 No. 4

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Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I move amendment No. 6:

I understand an amendment was introduced to finance legislation many years ago by my colleague, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, when Albert Reynolds was Minister for Finance in 1990. The purpose of the amendment was to relieve such a court payment from any income tax implications. Various parties to court proceedings, including various judges, PIAB and others, have all recommended that, in addition to single lump sums being paid, there may be occasions when it is desirable and perhaps even necessary to make partial or staggered payments of awards. The purpose of this amendment is to provide that, in such a case, exactly the same exemption from income tax would apply.

I was disappointed at the end of Committee Stage when this was previously discussed that the Minister of State announced his intention to appoint Mr. Justice Quirke to some kind of review body. While the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, in saying this may have wished to have been helpful, I see no reason not to have periodic payments exempted from income tax in the same way as single court awards are exempted. The system of exemption has worked very well up to now and I see no reason that it should not be extended to periodic payments because all of these matters are subject to court proceedings and generally are very carefully measured. I think the Minister could have confidence that this would represent a positive step in the administration of significant awards of the courts.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  This amendment was encouraged by Senator Joe O’Toole who has done a lot of work in this field. Having read the Committee Stage debate contribution by the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, Senator O’Toole was concerned that the Government was interpreting this as an attempt to move tax law ahead of general law. Senator O’Toole has very cogently made the point that this is not such an attempt. This amendment seeks to recognise that where a defendant agrees to pay to a plaintiff a sum of money on an annual basis, the tax provisions would not make this a prohibitively difficult option for those agreeing parties in the court. The court already allows them to agree to such an arrangement but the difficulty is that, under existing tax law, the plaintiff would receive the money as if it were income to be subject to tax whereas the lump sum arrangement, which is the conventional arrangement, would not be subject to tax.

This amendment seeks to allow something already allowed by the courts not to be obstructed by the tax code. The amendment is not seeking to break new ground or to upstage any discussions of a wider nature. However, it is eight years since the Government adopted in principle the idea that we should facilitate annual payments instead of lump sum payments. This is an important point to make. This amendment is simply facilitating a recognised and acceptable court agreement by removing a tax obstacle that might otherwise stand in its way. I hope the Minister can agree to it.

Deputy Arthur Morgan: Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  I welcome the Minister for Social and Family Affairs and perhaps I should also sympathise with her.

I support the amendment. I am sure we all know of instances where somebody awarded a substantial claim suddenly had significantly more friends than he or she realised and within a very short time those newly formed relationships of friendship proved to be other than that and had managed to deprive the recipient of his or her award, leaving him or her in a dreadful condition after a short number of years. My one concern, notwithstanding the tax issue that [672]has been raised by the previous two speakers, is to ensure sufficient funds are put in place over the period of the award, whatever it may be, to meet the agreed settlement and that funds are locked in.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  Personal injury awards should be made on the basis they deal with the needs of the individual. The Law Reform Commission recommended consideration of a payment on an annual basis because it may be of more benefit to the individual than a lump sum so why should there be two separate forms of tax treatment? It is a reasonable amendment that Senator Joe O’Toole has framed and I would like to hear the Minister’s thoughts on it. It addresses a practical aspect that will ensure equality of tax treatment.

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Deputy Mary Hanafin): Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  The Minister for Finance is favourably disposed towards this amendment but it was the President of the High Court who asked Mr. Justice Quirke to draw up the terms of reference for a working group on such issues. That report is due by November at the latest. The Minister has indicated that he would prefer to wait for that report.

He is, however, favourably disposed towards the idea and the suggestion made by Deputy O’Donnell about periodic payments to meet a person’s needs, because there could be an overpayment or an underpayment. I had not anticipated that a person who had suffered a catastrophic injury who got a major payment would be treated like a lottery winner by the sort of people mentioned by Deputy Morgan.

In looking at all of this there should be a guide to assist the court in deciding an appropriate award under the periodic payment order. For that reason, while we are favourably disposed towards the thinking in the amendment, we would prefer to wait for the outcome of the work of Mr. Justice Quirke.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  The Minister did not respond to my point. In the interim there are cases where those involved, the court, defendant and plaintiff, want to make an agreement of this nature and the only obstacle is the tax treatment. If the Minister accepts that we ought to do this, why do we need to wait for a report that refers to the broader issue of changing law in this realm where we simply have cases that could be facilitated in the meantime? Senator O’Toole has followed this closely and that is the point he is making. The Minister will be allowing one or two cases to slip through inadvertently which could be better handled if he was willing to concede.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  The inconsistency across the courts is often raised by the public and in this House. If a periodic payment order is to be used in cases of catastrophic injury, it would be important that there be a guide for the court. For the sake of waiting until the next Finance Bill we will be able to ensure we have such a guide.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 7 not moved.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  I move amendment No. 8:

This amendment provides for the tax treatment of PRSAs to be on a par with other pension provisions. It is a reasonable request and I hope the Minister will accede to it. It is either a yea or nay question. PRSAs were introduced to encourage people to take their pensions more seriously where employers have not been in the habit of providing cover. It appears to be in conflict with Government aims if the tax treatment would be disadvantageous in comparison with other pension contributions. I am sure the Minister for Social and Family Affairs will give this amendment a particularly warm response.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Wearing the hat of the Minister for Finance, I regret that I will not be able to accept this. The levy, given that it is applied on an individual’s gross income, does not grant relief for capital allowances, pension contributions and so on. The Minister is anxious not to erode the base of the income levy. For that reason he does not propose to accept the amendment.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  I am disappointed because it seemed fair and was in line with another Minister’s policy who is very persuasive in her encouragement of people to take up PRSAs. I do not intend, however, to delay the House if we cannot persuade the Government to take this on board.

Deputy Barrett has drawn to my attention a similar anomaly in the treatment of approved retirement funds compared to annuities, where people have the option of certain income cover allowing them to retain their funds in ARFs where others have annuities. Again the PRSI treatment of the two options seems different. There should maybe be consistency in the approach.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  With the combined system for payments of levies, such as the health levy and PRSI, that is to be introduced in the next year, the Minister for Finance has indicated that he will look at all the anomalies that might exist.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  I move amendment No. 9:

The Minister for Finance was sympathetic to the objective of this amendment. Deputy Noel Ahern, who is not here, was also very supportive. It arises from the fact that people who have reached the sixth year of their mortgage are treated as being in their seventh year and their entitlement to mortgage relief is withdrawn by the Revenue Commissioners, contrary to the normal understanding that there was to be seven years of relief. The result is that people who have had mortgage relief will be caught out by the 1 January 2004 deadline.

The Minister indicated that those who had mortgage relief would be allowed to continue to have it for a certain period. The amendment provides that those who took out mortgages during 2003 would qualify not for the full amount proposed for those who took out their [674]mortgages in 2004 but for a more curtailed period of relief. House prices in 2003 were escalating rapidly and anomalies have been brought to the attention of Deputies on all sides of the House about how this has caught people who are exposed. There is a degree of support for this on all sides.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  I support this amendment. The problem is that someone could take out a mortgage on 1 January 2004 and receive a full seven years of relief, because it is based upon when a person takes it out in a particular year. The problem is that somebody who took out a mortgage in 2003 would not get relief for that year. In the interest of fairness, we should consider a seven year period as distinct from seven tax years. It is a subtle but important difference for people who signed mortgages in a year when house prices were increasing at an alarming rate.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Unfortunately, I am not in a position to accept the amendment for three reasons. The first is that when the Department of Finance examined the matter, 2004 was found to be the peak year for house prices. People who purchased houses in 2003 were significantly better off than purchasers in the subsequent years. Those who bought houses in 2003 paid an average of €24,624 less than those who purchased in 2004. In order to target resources at those who suffered most from negative equity, the year 2004 was chosen.

The second reason is if the date is changed, those who purchased in the last half of 2002 will make the same argument. While this is a good measure in terms of supporting people, there will be demands to extend it six months prior to the cut-off date. The third reason is the loss that an extension to 2003 would cause to the Exchequer. The amendment as proposed would cost in the region of €16 million per annum, or a total cost of €64 million.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  This was an imperfect attempt to deal with the issue given that we did not have access to the costings. I suggest that the Minister could consider a couple of options. One would be a transition arrangement involving a declining scale over a number of months so that costs could be cut dramatically. Alternatively, the Government could simply agree to give people who are in this category one more year of mortgage cover. They are finding they are being cut off at six years if they raised the mortgage in 2003 because of the nature of the tax year. While the Minister is perhaps correct that the average price of a house in 2004 was €24,000 more than the price in 2003, the price of a house purchased on 1 January 2004 was probably no different from one purchased on 31 December 2003. The argument could be reversed to ask why we treat people who are only a day apart in their house purchases so differently. Either we could choose a transitional arrangement, which is common among the provisions introduced by the Department of Finance, or we could give an additional year to this category of people, which would be fairly simple and cheap.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  I concur with my colleague. The Minister outlined the increase from 2003 to 2004 but I would be interested in learning the change in house prices from 2002 to 2003. We are looking for a sense of fair play in this matter. People assumed they would receive mortgage relief over a seven year period and a transition arrangement would be fair to those who fall into the 2003 category. The issue has been raised by quite a number of my constituents because they are genuinely under pressure.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  I appreciate that people are coming under pressure and understand how we would get representations on extending the deadline but there is no doubt that 2004 was the year in which prices shot up. The peak years were 2006 and 2007 but prices have since returned to 2004 levels. We are discussing seven tax years rather than calendar years. In [675]discontinuing any tax relief, it is important to set a definite date. People have fallen just outside the deadlines set in every scheme introduced. While naturally one would be sympathetic to doing as much as possible for those who find themselves in negative equity, the scheme is intended to target those who suffered the most because they purchased houses in 2004. For that reason, and because of the potential loss of income to the Exchequer, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Kathleen Lynch): Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Amendment No. 10 is ruled out of order because it has a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Deputy Arthur Morgan: Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  On a brief point of order, amendment No. 10 merely provides that the Minister shall examine the question of standardisation. If that creates a charge on the Exchequer, I suggest the sum involved would be very small and what would be described in my part of the world as less than pocket money. I do not know why it is ruled out of order.

Acting Chairman: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Although I am sympathetic to the Deputy the amendment is out of order because it has a potential charge.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  The Acting Chairman is very harsh.

Amendment No. 10 not moved.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  I move amendment No. 11:

This amendment arose from a report by the Joint Committee on Health and Children on primary care centres. There was all-party agreement that the Minister for Finance should consider the possibility of tax reliefs to encourage the establishment of such facilities.

I do not think the argument needs to be rehearsed at length but anyone who visits my part of the city would see that the lack of primary care facilities is forcing people to present to accident and emergency units in excessive numbers. If I recall the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report correctly, the average cost of an accident and emergency visit is in the order of €300. Clearly, cost effectiveness would encourage the development of primary care centres with more diagnostic facilities and better capacity to deal with basic matters like blood tests. At present on the north side of Dublin doctors are charging medical card holders for blood tests, which means patients must wait several months to be tested in general hospitals. This is a very inefficient way to manage an important diagnostic tool.

It is generally believed that the proposal to fund primary care centres rather than pile patients into overstretched acute hospitals deserves our support. I framed this amendment in a way that is not overly prescriptive. It accords with the Minister’s expectation in the area of tax reliefs, namely, that the costs are commensurate with the benefits. It also fits with general policy for the sector, in other words, the Department of Health and Children would accept it as a coherent way of delivering health services.

[676]This amendment would at least enable the Minister for Finance to consider the report of the joint committee and if he and the Minister for Health and Children agree with it, he would have the statutory power to progress it. They may not agree to it after considering the issues. The Minister is under no obligation in this amendment. Given the state of thinking about the matter, I believe the amendment would give the Minister a weapon in his toolbox which, hopefully, he could use if it is seen as a good way to develop health policy. He is protected by his right to ask the Department of Health and Children to do the necessary cost benefits and then revert and show and convince him it is a good way to spend public money.

We all realise that whether it is a tax relief or a spending item, taxpayers’ money is at stake. I did not draw the amendment so widely that it would support mortgages and property development. I realise there would be a degree of unease about mortgage-based tax reliefs given their history. That does not apply in the case of diagnostics and treatment and it may be a way of facilitating a better social policy that appears to command support across the House.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  I support the amendment on the basis of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Health and Children report on primary care published last month. There is a view that the primary care strategy will be vital in terms of health care provision in the future. The Labour Party believes primary care centres should be licensed by the HSE and subject to the rules of HIQA. If one adheres to the goals in the primary care strategy, one would encourage more people to be treated in primary care centres and moved away from accident and emergency centres. If more people are to be treated in primary care centres, then it is obvious that we need more such centres and, therefore, one must provide some degree of stimulus to bring about more of them.

I am aware of one such centre in north Cork which will bring together approximately 17 general practitioners. The HSE has bought in as an active stakeholder in that process and the PCCC, primary, community and continuing care, programme will arise from the process. There are beneficial social outcomes as a result of facilitating specific reliefs by regulation.

I anticipate the Minister will speak to the issue of property-based reliefs and there is general agreement in respect of their future. However, specific reliefs can be made in respect of capital investment or equipment. We must be far-reaching in this regard. I admire the wording put forward because it allows the Minister a degree of latitude. We should consider the amendment laterally and take a lateral view of how we proceed with primary care centres, which the amendment facilitates.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  I support the amendment put forward by Deputy Bruton. Simply put, it is Government policy to promote primary care centres. We all believe they are a good idea. One must ensure proper levels of service and equipment are available, which are very costly. This amendment would allow the Minister to consider the matter with the Minister for Health and Children to determine what measures could be put in place to enable the proper roll-out of primary care centres nationally. There are continuing difficulties within our hospitals which are under-staffed and under-resourced. Primary care centres must not fall into that situation. The amendment proposed by Deputy Bruton is clear, concise and affords the Minister latitude to examine the issue.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  I also admire Deputy Bruton’s wording because it links the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Health and Children and many other considerations and consultations. Notwithstanding that, I am afraid I am not in a position to accept the amendment.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  What does it take?

[677]Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  It takes a regime change.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  The Minister should give us a lead-in before she says “No”.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  The report was only presented to the Minister of Health and Children last month. She will consider it and then advise us on the matter. A suite of measures is considered in the report. The Minister for Finance is of the view that no one thing should be taken in isolation and he will wait for the recommendations of the Minister for Health and Children as well. I accept what Deputies have said about the importance of such centres and the impact they could have on reducing waiting lists, etc., for accident and emergency departments. However, at present some 200 primary care centres are under consideration for leasing arrangements. In the case of 90 of these, contract negotiations are under way and, in turn, approximately 30 of these are expected to open this year. The key issue is not in respect of the number but the fact that each of these developments benefits from Exchequer funding already. Any suggestion to further supplement the contribution of the Exchequer would have to be very compelling since the centres are already being supported. Deputy Sherlock referred to the property-based tax incentives. Even in this Finance Bill the property-based tax incentives for child care facilities have been removed and it is the intention to support new or further incentives.

Another issue of relevance relates to the equipment doctors use. I understand that if equipment is used for diagnostic or treatment purposes, which are the words used in the amendment, it comes in under plant and machinery. Equipment used in such centres will qualify for capital allowance at 12.5% per annum over eight years. Given that the Exchequer is funding each of the centres in some way or another and because capital allowances are available for the equipment for doctors, etc., the Minister for Finance is not keen to grant any further reliefs at this stage. Obviously, we must await the recommendation of the Minister for Health and Children also.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  I have no wish to hold up the House but, if I am correct, the Minister for Health launched a health strategy in 2001 in which he indicated that he wished to see 600 primary health care centres established. This was a core principle and one of the priorities of his health strategy to reduce the reliance on hospital services. The phraseology used was that this would be the vision for the future. A glitzy launch took place and Dublin Castle was hired for the day. It was flagged that there would be up to ten or 15 of these primary care centres in every constituency and one was led to believe that it was a very encouraging and positive development in the health service. Some nine years later we are led to believe by the Minster that there are only a handful of such centres in place but a further 200 are under consideration. This does not suggest the existing policy of the HSE has been spectacularly successful in rolling out a key objective of the Government’s health strategy.

While we should wait to hear what the Minister for Health and Children has to say on the topic by all means, I do not see why we could not take some legislative power to determine if this could be encouraged by suitable tax reliefs. I believe the Ministers for Health and Children and Finance agree that they should have this weapon available for use. Either this is a genuine contribution to health economics and we are getting better value for the taxpayers’ buck by having primary health care centres or it is not. The HSE has had nine years to prove the success of its strategy and it appears to have been singularly unsuccessful to date. While I am not a fan of tax reliefs for every Tom, Dick and Harry’s project, there is a genuine case to be made that this measure could bring about more cost-effective care.

[678]I acknowledge the point made by the Minister that one could get 12.5% tax relief if one were set up as a company. I am unsure if a sole trader would get the same relief, although I am informed by my accountant beside me that is the case.

There is a case for doing something to kick-start this. It is surprising that the Minister for Health and Children would be keen to promote this in an area where I consider it is wholly inappropriate, namely private hospitals on the grounds of public facilities, whereas an area that has been the bedrock of the healthy strategy of the party of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs for nine years is not touched and nothing was done to kick-start it. I would have thought we would better forgetting about the building of private hospitals and seeing could we leverage some private investment in this area where, traditionally, people have been satisfied with GP services privately provided. It is one of the successful parts of the health service where, generally speaking, public and private patients get access to care on an equitable and fair basis, even though some are paying and some are not.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  May I tease out the figures that the Minister placed before us and seek a clarification on the number of contracts that are under negotiation presently? I may have misheard the Minister. I thought she stated 30 are under negotiation. I want to get a more qualitative analysis of the present state of negotiations. The reason I ask that is because I believe it is pertinent to the amendment.

The current state of negotiations could be influenced by whether or not further stimulus is given to primary care centres that may be under negotiation presently or that persons may be thinking of setting up where they may have started cursory negotiations with the HSE or the Department of Health and Children. Given the present state of the economy, the state of those negotiations will be predicated on whether there is a stimulus provided and an amendment such as this will definitely have an influence in bringing more of them to fruition. That would be my party’s view.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  By way of assistance, this amendment does nothing more than allow the Minister for Finance consult with the Minister for Health and Children. It is not prescriptive. Effectively, it allows that consultation would take place.

A measure that could be considered is that of giving accelerated capital allowances to persons to set up primary care centres, a matter touched on by Deputy Bruton. It would be probably universally agreed that GPs provide a very good service in the community in terms of the overall health service.

The amendment seeks to provide for a form of specialist service within each area of the country, but it is being promoted in terms of the private sector. This would ensure that all issues were looked at and it would be put into a legislative basis, in other words, there would be back-up in legislation in that regard. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, would comment on the issue of accelerated capital allowances to ensure, along with what Deputy Sherlock stated, that this issue of the provision of primary care centres would move along at pace. The provision of private hospitals on public lands is very much open to question and this would be a better use of taxpayers’ money.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  The provision both of private hospitals on public lands and primary care centres are not incompatible. A primary care centre is designed to stop people ending up in hospital and we all would appreciate the value of having more primary care centres.

In response to Deputy Sherlock, the figures I gave relate to those that are under leasing consideration at present. The HSE is using a range of different approaches, including direct [679]capital expenditure on building, refurbishing or extending the units around the country. Separate to that, there are leasing arrangements under consideration. In those figures, 200 are under consideration for leasing arrangements. In fact, 95 are in contract negotiations at present. It is expected that 30 of those involving such leasing would open this year, which would be over and above anything that might be done through direct capital expenditure by the HSE.

As I indicated earlier, it is not intended to do anything else on the property-based tax schemes. Deputy Bruton stated that the amendment is only asking that the Minister for Health and Children would negotiate as well, but one would not want to delay any action that might take place by stating that we will wait to hear the view of the Minister for Health and Children, who might recommend incentives, etc., because it would be important to get these centres up and running. Having 200 of them under active consideration for leasing, over and above what has already been provided for, is not a bad record. For the same reasons I outlined at the beginning, I will not accept this amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Amendment No. 12 in the name of Deputy Bruton is out of order.

Amendment No. 12 not moved.

Acting Chairman: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Amendment No. 13 in the name of Deputy O’Donnell arises out of committee proceedings.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  I move amendment No. 13:

This amendment, which I brought forward on Committee Stage, relates to the specific circumstances of the regeneration in Limerick in the constituency I represent. The Minister gave an undertaking that it would be considered as part of a first-phase submission implementation plan to be submitted by the end of this month to the Limerick regeneration project.

We have spoken on a number of occasions so far in the debate on the issue of tax incentive schemes and I welcome the fact that the Minister has taken on board the amendment on the review of schemes put forward by Deputy Burton. What I propose here relates to the Limerick regeneration project that was launched by the Government on foot of Mr. John Fitzgerald’s report, which was completed in March 2007. Following from that report, a vision document was produced and launched in January 2008 by President Mary McAleese in Limerick. Subsequently, a detailed master plan was produced and presented to the Cabinet in October 2008. The vision document has been agreed by the Cabinet; the master plan has not.

The Minister made reference to 2004 being the year when house prices ballooned out of control. One of the reasons for that was the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, stated that the fundamentals were fine and people should build on. Houses were built and the great majority of those who bought houses at that time are now in negative equity.

However, within the Limerick regeneration project, houses need to be built. Over 400 houses have been knocked in the four areas of Moyross and St. Mary’s Park on the northside of the city and Ballinacurra Weston and Southill on the southside. Many of these houses are in areas where elderly people and young families live.

  [680]6 o’clock

This would give an impetus to the project. There still is a requirement for the State to provide investment. I welcome the fact that the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, during Committee Stage gave a commitment that it would be looked at as part of the submission to be made at the end of this month, but I also want to see the overall master plan agreed by the Cabinet. The Minister will be well aware that when this issue arose with the Fitzgerald report in March 2007, it was deemed to be of such critical importance that it fell under the remit, not of a specific line Minister but of the Cabinet. The first phase of the regeneration plan will go directly to the Cabinet for approval.

I welcome the examination of the tax designation areas. I believe it should be specific to the regeneration areas in Limerick because the unemployment rate there is five times higher than the national average. Up to 22,000 people are on the live register, 16,000 of whom live in the city alone.

This measure would provide the stimulus to get the private sector involved in the regeneration programme. However, there must be State funding up front to show the Government is committed to the project.

Houses need to be built at this stage. Elderly people are watching the houses around them being knocked or boarded up. What is needed is hope. This amendment on the tax designation would be self-financing for the State. For every €1 spent by the State in the building projects, 35 cent would go back into the State coffers.

I acknowledge the commitment made by the Minister for Finance on Committee Stage to consider this proposal with the first phase submission to be made by the Limerick regeneration project at the end of March.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  The Government remains firmly committed to the Limerick regeneration programme, as was reiterated at the end of 2009. The work that has already been done is beginning to have an effect, which Deputy O’Donnell acknowledges. It can be seen not just in the demolition work, but also the investment in Garda resources, education, youth training and health services. This is just as important as any capital moneys allocated. Since the initiative started in mid-2007, up to €50 million has gone into the project. This year, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has committed another €25 million.

Having said that, I accept people need to see positive new developments through growth in new housing, for example. The Government asked the Limerick regeneration agencies to complete their work on the programme and prepare a phase one implementation plan by the end of the first quarter in 2010, at which point the Government will consider the matter again.

While I do not propose to accept the amendment, the Government remains committed to the whole Limerick regeneration master plan.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  I thank the Minister for her comments. Is there any capital aspect to the €50 million given to the project to date? Was it designated mainly for the demolition of unfit houses?

I acknowledge the resources put into policing, education and social work with great community activists working in the areas. However, it has only been demolition to date with no construction of new housing units. People need to see the building projects begin.

This year, the Government has provided capital funding for regeneration projects in Moyross and Ballinacurra Weston. However, my main concern, and that of many people in Limerick, is that unless the master plan is agreed, there will be no firm commitment on works projects for [681]the following years. As these are meant to be done incrementally over the next ten to 15 years, we want the Government to commit to the whole project over this time.

I welcome the Minister’s decision to take on board tax incentives for the regeneration areas on foot of the submission to be made by the regeneration agencies at the end of March. Will the Government approve the overall master plan when it receives the first phase implementation plan?

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  I support this amendment. From the beginning, it was envisaged in implementing the Limerick regeneration plan that half of the €1.7 billion needed over ten years would come from the private sector. However, there needs to be some incentive for the private sector to become involved in the project. All Members from Limerick will have had approaches from investors who would be interested in developing in the regeneration areas. It is to be hoped that local people in the Limerick area would also invest and develop projects in these areas. In the current economic climate, these hopes are receding rapidly unless some incentives for this to happen are provided.

As Deputy O’Donnell said, we need to know this project will be completed. It is a large project and so far we have only had the negative side of it with buildings knocked and vacated. In some cases, the areas in question are worse than they were before because no new housing stock has replaced them. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the Cabinet will give full backing to the plan with the commitment to see it through to the finish?

Deputy Arthur Morgan: Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  I, too, support the amendment. Well thought-out and well-focused tax incentives could bring significant opportunities to Limerick and the mid-west. It is also important, as the regeneration project seems to have hit the rocks, that the Government demonstrates it has some commitment to developing Limerick and offers some hope to the people of that city which has suffered immensely over recent years.

I hope the Minister will accept the amendment as it simply requests the Government to consider the tax incentive. Of course, we hope it will not just consider but implement the incentives.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I support this amendment. I do so with an element of care because some tax designation measures of recent times have been overdone and overcooked. This, however, is rather a special case for all of the reasons the House well understands. I am not sure I understand the Minister’s reply. The last public utterance on this came from the Minister’s colleague, Deputy O’Dea, before his defenestration at his own hand when he said the State could not keep its end of the bargain but that he had on tap a number of private investors waiting to move in and fill the gap. As Deputy O’Sullivan has said, in the only instance of that I have picked up on, the private investor concerned is contingent on something along those lines being put in place. I am sure the Minister agrees with Deputies Bruton and O’Sullivan that we cannot leave this in the mess it is in now until six or seven years down the road when the economy starts to pick up again. I would like to hear the Minister set out her plans if she is not prepared to take on board the amendment before the House.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  As I understand it, the agencies are developing the implementation plan and it will include projected costings, planning and value for money considerations. The economic development options and whatever opportunities or incentives are needed to attract the essential private investment to which Deputy Rabbitte refers are also under examination. The Government reaffirmed its commitment to the project at the end of last year but has asked that the first phase of implementation plan be presented very quickly, within the first quarter of this year. The Government will then seriously consider it.

[682]Deputy O’Donnell mentioned housing plans. The sheltered housing projects at Moyross and Ballinacurra Weston are expected to go to tender this year. That will represent real progress of new positive development rather than just demolition. The projects at Southill and St. Mary’s Park have also been developed. While I do not accept the amendment, nor am I in a position to, the Government is still strongly committed to the project. It will give active consideration to the first phase of the implementation plan and its recommendations.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  I thank my colleagues for accepting the amendment I have tabled. The opportunity cost to the State by providing for tax designation is very little. In the current climate we must encourage private investment. This project was effectively split, with €1.7 billion from the State and €1.4 billion from private investors. The employment opportunities mean this is effectively a fiscal stimulus for Limerick besides the fact it will improve the lives of those living in the regeneration areas. This is about long-term commitment and we cannot have a situation where the Government arrives in a cavalcade and announces it will knock the area and fully rebuild it and then knocks 400 houses in areas in worse condition than before regeneration was announced. I am not denying the work done in social areas but I refer to the physical aspect. There is an employment opportunity of up to 3,000 jobs at full construction stage. Some 4,000 jobs can be created if the whole regeneration project is under way.

The Minister is avoiding one of the key elements. I take on board the point that the tax designation element will be included in the implementation phase. This was also included in the master plan. The Government fudged the issue of endorsement. The Government endorsed a vision plan but did not endorse the master plan. The master plan sets out what will happen over a ten-year period. It details the number of houses to be built and the number of projects to be completed. When will the Government approve the master plan? Will it approve it at the end of March along with the first phase in order to give certainty to people in the regeneration areas and those in the wider Limerick area that the project will come to fruition? The Government appears to operate in an all or nothing fashion. Either it throws millions at a situation or gives nothing. Why not be strategic and give a commitment that the project will be completed within ten or 15 years, while giving multiannual funding? We all know the cost of construction has reduced by approximately 35%. The Government should endorse the master plan and make it Government policy at Cabinet level. Will the Government do so at the end of March along with the first phase of the implementation plan?

The Government should consider the tax incentives. People in the regeneration areas of Moyross, St. Mary’s Park, Southill, Ballinacurra Weston and the wider Limerick area will know the regeneration project has been started will be completed. People need to see the physical build. They need to see homes rebuilt and refurbished. That is up in the air at the moment and this is unacceptable. Will the Government agree to the master plan at the end of March?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan): Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  Is Deputy O’Donnell pressing the amendment?

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  I would like to hear the Minister’s comments on this. It is an important issue.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  What is under consideration is the potential for a specific tax incentive scheme. Consideration of that will arise out of the implementation plan. The Government must wait until it sees the implementation plan, which is due very shortly if it is to be in the first quarter of this year.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  When will the Government agree to the master plan?

[683]Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Suffice it to say, the Government recognises the issues raised by Deputies from Limerick. The Government has already reaffirmed its commitment. Some €1.65 billion was set out as public investment in the plan. Let us consider the implementation plan, which will give us the first start for the Government to consider the project. Undoubtedly the Government remains committed to the vision and the plan but I will not accept the amendment tabled by Deputy O’Donnell.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I move amendment No. 14:

The purpose of this amendment is to amend sections 207, 208 and 235, together with section 847A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. The Revenue Commissioners publish lists of bodies whose income is exempt. Under the first section there are charity bodies whose income is exempt and under the latter there are sporting bodies whose income is exempt. Some of these publish their accounts very clearly but they are not submitted to the Revenue Commissioners unless requested. I accept that some are very transparent. The purpose of this amendment is to require that all such bodies make public their accounts. Examples of how to do this are provided by organisations such as Concern and the GAA. The amendment also requires them to submit their accounts and annual report to the Revenue Commissioners within six months of the end of the financial year. That is a reasonable request. The amendment also deals with [684]the tax relief available on donations to approved projects by sporting bodies and charities. Previously, such relief on donations was restricted to Third World bodies. However, that is no longer the case as the list has been extended in respect of approved charities and capital projects for sporting purposes. The intention of the amendment is to ensure there is an obligation to publish a separate analysis of the money received under the donation schemes in respect of sport schemes, as in respect of specific capital schemes.

I anticipate that the Minister may say that some of this is already provided for in the charities legislation. However, as I understand it, the charities legislation in this regard has not been invoked and there is no indication this will happen. The purpose of this amendment is to pick up on this area in the interim.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  I wish to piggy back on Deputy Rabbitte’s amendment to discuss the points raised in my amendments Nos. 15 and 16 which have been ruled out of order as they do not arise out of committee proceedings. I understand that some of those involved in charities believe the sections on charities, as drafted in the Bill, could be excessively onerous on trustees and others involved in charities. That is the context in which amendments Nos. 15 and 16, which sadly are out of order, were put to me. Perhaps the Minister might have access to a note from officials that could be put on the record and would advise charities that their fears are unfounded or that the matter is under consideration for the future.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Deputy Rabbitte was correct to assume that I would refer to the Charities Act 2009. As I understand it, the issue raised in the amendment is provided for in that Act, albeit not yet implemented. The view is that there is not much point in replicating those powers in separate legislation. Having said that, the Revenue Commissioners play an important role in terms of putting in place controls and monitoring procedures and so on. We must get the balance right in terms of putting in place provisions which are not too onerous on trustees and of ensuring the public knows whether it is dealing with a bona fide charity. The Revenue Commissioners have a monitoring role in this regard.

The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism deals with sporting areas in respect of the Charities Act. I regret I am unable to accept the amendment. Perhaps Deputy Bruton would reiterate the point he wished me to address.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  My amendments Nos. 15 and 16 have unfortunately been ruled out of order. I believe they represent some genuine concerns among charities. Perhaps the Minister could read into the record or send to me a note on the matter.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  The note I have states that the power provided for in section 208(b)(v) to appoint an auditor is only intended to be used where the Revenue Commissioners are not satisfied with information provided to them or where the appointment of an auditor is deemed necessary by them. There is no question of Revenue always appointing an auditor to verify information provided. The operative word in this regard is that the Revenue Commissioners “may” appoint rather than “shall” appoint an auditor. I hope this allays the concerns expressed.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I take it the Minister’s last point is that bona fide charities need not be concerned about the requirement in that regard.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Yes.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Minister’s riposte is that the import of the amendment which I have proposed is comprehensively provided for in the charities legislation. I am not quite sure [685]that that is true in all respects. Why is the legislation not being implemented? Is it that the Revenue Commissioners have such work to do they are not yet ready to put in place that which is envisaged by the legislation? I would not be advancing this amendment if the legislation passed by the House were implemented. Perhaps the Minister will say when we can expect that legislation to be implemented.

Deputy Arthur Morgan: Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  Like other speakers, I have sympathy for genuine charities who are trying to manage their affairs honourably, fairly and justly. It is important we provide as much space as possible to allow them to get on with their difficult work.

Deputy Burton referred on Committee Stage to sharks, not of the marine type, who might be seeking a loophole in this provision for their own benefit. None of us wants to see that happen. I believe Deputy Rabbitte’s amendment would have tightened up the legislation sufficiently to ensure the sharks could not get through. However, we must not tighten it to an extent that makes the task of charities getting on with their laudable business onerous.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  I am anxious to allay any fears trustees might have. It is certainly not the Government’s intention to make their task more onerous or to implement legislation that would prevent people becoming involved in charities as trustees. I take this opportunity to reassure people that the intention is that that part of the Act will be used judiciously. It will be of assistance in situations where the Revenue Commissioners are unable to carry out a review of a charitable body in the normal way, for example, where such a body is located abroad. It is not intended that such power will be used regularly.

Deputy Rabbitte referred to the Charities Act. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is rolling out an implementation plan for the Charities Act 2009. I understand it has taken a number of years to be implemented in other countries. That will probably be the case here too. Some sections of it have already commenced, including regulation of the sale of presigned mass cards.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Thanks be to God.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  A legal challenge finalised in December 2009 also delayed matters. I note it is the Government’s intention to continue to roll out the charities legislation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 have been ruled out of order as they do not arise out of committee proceedings.

Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 not moved.

Acting Chairman: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  Amendment No. 17 arises out of committee proceedings. I call on Deputy Richard Bruton to move the amendment.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Deputy Ring might be more articulate on this matter.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  I move amendment No. 17:

This amendment deals with a special case which affects one of the few historical places remaining in this country, namely, Westport House estate. There are only about seven of these estates in the country. A master plan for this estate was drawn up with the agreement of the town council and county council. This was something for which I and other members of the council had been asking for 20 years. A massive amount of money was borrowed and a professional team has been employed to deal with every aspect of the plan. The owners of the estate borrowed a lot of money to get a professional team to deal with every aspect of the plan.

This 80% windfall tax was really put in place to penalise developers and not to penalise people like Lord Altamont. The Browne family have had this estate in their name for many years. They want to develop that estate, as do the people of Westport. This estate attracts over 50,000 visitors every year and it has done more for tourism in the west of Ireland than Bord Fáilte and Ireland West Tourism. We had been encouraging the council to sit down with Lord Altamont to try to develop this plan. Now that we have the plan and we have brought Lord Altamont on board, this tax is brought in. I ask for an exemption for this plan. The council is in favour of it and I want an exemption for Westport House and estates like it. There are only seven or eight such estates in the country.

Whatever money is needed to pay for the development of the estate will be spent on the windfall tax, and so the estate will not be developed. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment because it will only affect a few estates. The Government can go ahead with the developer aspect of the tax, although I believe it is wrong as well. The Green Party wants to do this but it will not be good in the long term for the development of lands. However, I am asking the Minister to exempt Westport House and estates like it.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  I have a very long note on 80% draft development plans and so on. I was not aware that Deputy Ring would raise the specific issue of Westport House. Notwithstanding that, I do not intend to accept the amendments. Westport House as a heritage site is not an isolated case. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has indicated there is a number of places to be rezoned from non-development land use to development land use.

I am advised that because it is not an isolated case, there is no requirement to inform the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government about a local area plan if it relates to an area of the population lower than 2,000. There may well be more than 50 local area plans in draft form at any one time. As it is not an isolated case — I am not sure we should be legislating for one place anyway — I do not propose to accept the amendment.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  I want to push this to a vote because the Government is making a mistake on it. The Bill is not dealing with our problem. There should be some exemption and the officials should be able to get some exemption on heritage sites. It was part of an area plan, and the people there believe that they should be exempt. The only thing creating the problem is this aspect of the Bill. Even if the Bill has to go back to the Seanad, I ask the officials to look at this to try to exempt places like this. The tax was set up for developers and not for heritage sites.

This is a heritage site and a fabulous house. The town council, the county council and the people of Westport and Mayo have been looking for this development for 20 years. Now that [687]we have got Lord Altamont and the Browne family to agree, they have worked with the council, the county planners and the town planners, and they have borrowed substantial money to bring this to the best standard possible. Is there anything that could be done to allow this exemption? It is wrong to penalise this development, and the money they have borrowed for the plan will instead be spent on the windfall tax.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  This proposal was never debated in the House. It was brought in by way of a Report Stage amendment to the NAMA legislation. It was guillotined in such a way that the House never got an opportunity to debate it in any shape or form. Deputy Ring and others should have had an opportunity to debate this penal rate of tax. It was done on the understanding that nothing would be affected by the tax, that there would be no more development and so this was a fanciful tax as nobody was going to rezone land. The place was awash with rezoned land, so it was designed as a token to say that we are going to shut the door and lock it with 80 locks so that it will never be opened again.

This provision was never debated in the House. People like Deputy Ring would have known of specific cases that should have been contemplated before the House decided on this, but they were not given that opportunity. It is very unfair that the Minister puts up a stone wall and states we cannot consider it.

The consequences of this tax were not thought through. There was no assessment done in the Department of Finance before it arrived on the statute books. It was never debated in the Dáil. We read criticism today about parliamentary accountability having disappeared, and the highest constitutionally independent officer in the land, the Ombudsman, has told us that we need to get our act together. This is a case in point. It is ridiculous to expect people to live with the consequences of a tax that was dreamed up by a handful of people in a particular party who wanted a token green fig leaf to cover their nakedness in respect of decisions being made on other matters, namely, NAMA. However, other people have to live with the consequences of this fig leaf. We need a proper system of enacting legislation. It cannot be done on a whim and without scrutiny.

Perhaps the 80% windfall tax is a good thing but I cannot think of an activity that necessitated an 80% tax, unless those who propose it want to ban that activity. I do not know where this came from because we were never exposed to the thinking of the Green Party, who no doubt advocated it. It would be nice if some of its members were here to respond to Deputy Ring, because we have seen what could be the first of many consequences of an ill-thought out tax. We have learned the lesson so often that we, as the saying goes, “marry in haste, repent at leisure”, when Bills were jackbooted through the House only to be later found unworkable.

This provision should never have passed through the House without scrutiny and there should have been an opportunity for people like Deputy Ring or Lord Altamont to have a case heard by the Oireachtas before decisions were made. The Minister now feels obliged to cling to the wreckage of this idea because she does not have a mandate from the Cabinet to change it. We should find some way of dealing with the fallout — be it through a special provision, regulation or otherwise — from such an extraordinary tax and the way it was conceived and delivered.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Seeking an exemption for one particular development is not the way to make law, and I have sympathy with the Minister on that. However, I know what Deputy Ring is talking about as I visited Westport House last summer. He is right about the focus it provides for the attraction of business in Westport and west Mayo in general. Given what he is confronting, how else is he to address the issue?

[688]When the former Senator, Déirdre de Búrca, decided to hang up her boots she said that Fianna Fáil was running rings around the Green Party. This is a perfect example of what she had in mind because the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, knows that her backbenchers broke up in uncontrollable laughter when this measure was introduced. As far as they are concerned, it has no application. If there was a windfall tax during the height of the boom — albeit 80% is a generous one — one could see the point of it. I can see the point of it but the problem is the manner in which this has been done, the way it has been pitched, the fact that it has not been subjected to any discussion and that it is generally considered by the business community to have no relevance whatsoever because it simply does not arise, yet it has the implications Deputy Ring highlighted for a meritorious project in terms of attracting euro and other denominations from outside the State.

The Minister ought to be able to give Deputy Ring a more meaningful reply than saying we cannot legislate for this, and tough luck. Where there is the prospect of generating some economic activity and maintaining some local employment, we cannot afford to turn our backs on a project such as this one.

Deputy Arthur Morgan: Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  I have sympathy for the Minister having to take this part of Report Stage effectively under another Minister’s portfolio. There is a complex implication here because the amendment refers to the draft development plan or local area plan, which is what the legislation refers to also, but is a contravention of a county development plan, for example, included or excluded? That type of minutiae that Members here will be familiar with was not teased out at the time. The only reason this measure was introduced, and I agree with previous speakers in this regard, was because of bluff, bluster and spin from the Green Party Members which allowed them pretend to their own members, and perhaps some gullible members of the public who might fall for it, that they were achieving something when in fact they were not.

I will give the Minister a brief example. When I was a member of a local authority I had occasion to examine category 2 development plans and in one instance an old farmer owned land that stretched almost to the centre of this category 2 development plan area, which was a largely rural area. While he was alive that old farmer would never part with that land for any purpose other than agriculture. He was never going to allow it be developed for building purposes for any reason or for any amount of money. There was not the remotest chance of that yet that land was rezoned for housing purposes. If that case applied now that farmer would be pursued for 80% of the value of the property and he would not have the funds. Would he, therefore, lose his entire farm?

Certain exclusions and subtleties that needed to be dealt with in the circumstances were not dealt with. As Deputy Bruton rightly pointed out, this debate was, as usual, placed under guillotine and we did not have time to tease out these matters and point out the significant difficulties involved.

If we want to deal with the question of heritage sites throughout the country, and I am sure we do, this legislation must be reviewed urgently. I do not know that it can be done as quickly as Deputy Ring would wish. I would prefer if it could be, and would support that, but it must come back before this House for scrutiny to give it proper shape, rather than this mad, Green Party spin idea to rush it through and let others pick up the price for it.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  I support the amendment. From a practical viewpoint it is reasonable that the Minister would introduce an amendment in the Seanad debate to deal specifically with heritage sites. This is a site that is open to the public but it will probably be impossible to [689]properly develop it without this measure and would have been examined in the context that the 80% windfall tax would not have applied. Surely it would be possible that the Minister could examine this from the point of view of dealing with heritage sites that are open to the public to ensure they would be exempted from the 80% windfall tax.

The issue of the windfall tax was dealt with in one of the last amendments but we never got an opportunity to discuss it at any stage. It was tabled on Report Stage. Brownfield sites are another example. The Minister might consider examining this issue before the Seanad debate. We are concerned here with developing facilities that are open to the public yet the Minister is putting what is effectively a barrier in place for this sort of development to take place.

I ask the Minister to accept the points on which I am sure Deputy Ring will conclude and examine this issue in a practical way in terms of heritage sites and other such sites. We may have had an opportunity to discuss it in great depth if the debate on that amendment had not been guillotined.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  I understand that following Committee Stage the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, considered the issue. The Department examined the development plan in question in regard to Westport and as Deputy Ring will be well aware, there are lands other than the heritage site which are also proposed to be rezoned from non-development land to development land. We are not only concerned here with an individual site.

Regarding the date of application, which is 30 October 2009, and rezonings made after that, if we introduced this amendment it would impact on 18 draft development plans and 50 local area plans. We are not talking about an isolated incident in this case. I also understand that if we were to make the exemption just for heritage sites it may be difficult to defend legally. I am aware Deputy Bruton raised all of these issues on Committee Stage.

I understand also there are three different criteria for the windfall tax: rezonings made after 30 October; an increase in the land valuation related to the rezoning; and land sold after 30 October 2009. Given the current depressed property market, all those conditions may not occur but they may be relevant——

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  That is for sure.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Exactly. That is the point. I know Deputy Rabbitte is coming at it from the political perspective in terms of the point he made earlier.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I am fascinated by a windfall tax in the development market.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  It could be very relevant in the future to avoid any——

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Minister and I will be on Zimmer frames by then.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Indeed. It would ensure that we would not have an overheated speculative market in the future but it may not be relevant today, as the two Mayo men have pointed out. Not all of any increase in the value of land could be pointed towards the actual rezoning and therefore it would not all be subject to the 80% tax rate.

Acting Chairman: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  Deputy Ring, how stands the amendment?

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  I thank all the speakers who supported this amendment. I know the Minister is not talking about the actual site but it is all part of the one estate. I want to put on the record of the Dáil that they got legal advice and that they believed the rezoning of the [690]Westwood estate was the same in the adopted development plan as it appears in the draft development plan.

The Minister is correct. They were not talking about the house itself but the entire grounds. The problem, however, is that some of the ground needs to be sold to keep the house. That has been the Green Party’s plan in regard to the 80% windfall tax and it is the same party that is lecturing me, Deputy Rabbitte and every Member in this House about saving our heritage sites. The Green Party now has an opportunity to do something about a site that everybody, including the Westport people, town council and county council, has been encouraging Lord Altamont to develop further for the past 50 years.

Only seven or eight heritage houses are left in the country. The others have all been bought by private developers and developed. Westport House is open to the public and it is a major tourist attraction in the town of Westport. I was a member of the town council and the county council. The council, perhaps for historical reasons, never wanted to deal with Lord Altamont. I suppose the Minister’s party had a part to play in it. Lord Altamont was a better Westport man than most others in the town. He loved the town and was born and reared there, as were his daughters. He did more for tourism in the Westport area than Bord Fáilte, Ireland West Tourism and the State ever did but got very little grant aid. Westport House is a lovely stately home and is open to the public.

I ask the Minister to make an amendment on Committee Stage in the Seanad covering the heritage site and grounds to try to deal with this issue. Such heritage sites, even if they number only 16 or 17, are worth preserving. This is what I believed the Green Party was fighting for. I should not be fighting for this. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, should be here supporting me this evening and saying I am a great man to be advocating the preservation of heritage sites. Instead, he is trying to close down one of the few we have left. It does not make sense. I ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to do something for the man. We want the site developed and to keep the tourist attraction in Westport. I ask the Minister to make an amendment on Committee Stage in the Seanad.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  I move amendment No. 18:

This new section makes changes to the scheme of capital allowances in respect of expenditure incurred in the construction or refurbishment of tourism facilities in the mid-Shannon area. The scheme commenced on 1 June 2008 and was time limited. Under the existing legislation governing the scheme, projects wishing to avail of relief must apply for approval in principle [691]by 31 May 2010 in advance of expenditure being incurred. If approved, the qualifying expenditure must then be incurred by 31 May 2013.

I have been advised by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, the Mid Shannon Tourism Infrastructure Board and Fáilte Ireland that there are a number of significant and worthwhile projects in the pipeline that have not yet been submitted formally to the board for approval. These projects are unlikely to proceed without an extension to the existing deadline for the submission of projects. To facilitate these projects, the Minister for Finance is making two changes to section 372AW of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. First, he is to extend the period during which applications for approval in principle can be made from two years to four years. The latest date for the submission of such applications will be 31 May 2012. Second, to cater for any projects that may avail of this new date for the submission of applications for approval in principle, the Minister is extending the period within which qualifying expenditure must be incurred by two years. This period will now end on 31 May 2015. These extensions will have to be notified to the EU Commission in the context of State aid and will, therefore, not come into operation until the necessary approval is received to make the commencement order.

I do not expect that the further two-year extension of the project approval deadline will have significant short-term Exchequer implications due to the long lead-in period for the projects concerned. Any longer-term Exchequer cost will be balanced by the benefits of additional tourism infrastructure in the area, increases in both short-term construction employment and longer-term employment in the facilities following completion. On balance, notwithstanding the current Exchequer difficulties, there is a good case for extending the approval deadline. I commend the amendment to the House.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  I welcome this amendment, on foot of which the project approval deadline is to be extended. With regard to developing the River Shannon, there is a strong argument for extending the scheme to Limerick. The report of the Mid West Task Force, chaired by Mr. Denis Brosnan, recommended that the extension of the scheme be considered. The Minister can see the benefits of such a scheme for the Shannon region. The regeneration project falls into this category. It is a question of developing the Shannon region, attracting tourists thereto and providing the necessary infrastructure.

We all want proper cost-benefit analyses and tax incentive schemes, which are critical in certain cases. With regard to developing the Shannon region, I ask the Minister to take on board what Mr. Brosnan’s report stated on extending the scheme down the Shannon into Limerick. I would like to hear her observations.

Deputy Arthur Morgan: Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  In an earlier contribution, abuses of the incentives were referred to. I agree entirely on this matter. When we consider the Limerick and mid-Shannon areas and Leitrim and Roscommon, we see there are huge opportunities for tourism development. When we consider the opportunities that exist for entrepreneurs, farmers and residents to develop an income for themselves and become sustainable, we note opportunities are few and far between. This is why I support the Minister’s amendment. I hope the scheme can be extended beyond the mid-Shannon area. Visitor statistics show that Leitrim and Roscommon are at the very bottom of the pile, below even Donegal and Sligo. One way to address this is to develop incentives covering the area north and south of the mid-Shannon, including the Limerick area, as referred to by Deputy O’Donnell. I submit strongly that the Minister consider Sligo and Roscommon also.

[692]Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  In the same way that Deputy Rabbitte donned his former Mayo hat, I could don my former Tipperary hat and talk about the mid-west but I had better not commit to any extensions of any reliefs in the House today.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  The Minister should. We would encourage that.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  However, I thank the Deputies for supporting this amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I move amendment No. 19:

I am moving this amendment on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Burton. The amendment anticipates difficulties in resolving conflicts and disputes in a growing niche industry about which Deputy Burton knows a great deal more than I do.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  Is the Deputy pressing the amendment?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  In the absence of her knowledge on Sharia finance, I must do the best I can with the amendment. I am thankful she was not present in the House when Deputy Ring was trying to gain advantage for rezoning around Westport.

As I understand the point at issue, there may be a conflict between two systems of law where disputes arise. There does not seem to be a great deal of jurisprudence to guide disputes resolution in these circumstances. This amendment would require the Minister for Finance, within one month of the enactment of this legislation, to make a report on Sharia-compliant finance and on the resolution mechanism to be undertaken in the event of disputes arising. I ask the Minister for Finance to commit, within a reasonable period of enactment, to clarifying this issue in the House. As I understand it, a document was presented on this area of finance to the Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service by the Department of Finance. While I am not a member of that committee, I believe this amendment focuses on a narrow point, that is, the issue of dispute resolution.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Once this legislation is enacted, it will apply to any transaction coming within its terms, irrespective of whether it has been entered into by a member of the Muslim community or whether it is Sharia compliant. The question of a separate dispute-resolution mechanism does not arise in this context. The legislation provides for tax treatment in three specified financial transactions, which are outlined as credit transactions, deposit transactions and investment transactions. There are equivalents within Sharia law. While the legislation was framed with those transactions in mind, where there is a direct correlation it will apply to any transaction. There is no necessity for the amendment because the notion of a separate dispute resolution mechanism does not arise.

Debate adjourned.


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