Tuesday, 11 December 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
117. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will raise the status and whereabouts of Ayman Taleb Abustah a prisoner in the Israeli prison system with the Israeli authorities. [55115/12]
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): I am aware of reporting in relation to this individual by an Irish film maker who was recently in Gaza. My Department had not previously had any record of contact in relation to him, from family or NGOs. The NGO with which we usually deal on prisoners’ issues do not have any record of him. Another NGO has a record of an Ayman Taleb Abu Siteh, who is likely to be the same individual, but very limited information on his current status. I am having further enquiries made, including with the Israeli authorities.
118. Deputy Michael Conaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has made any representations to the Ugandan Government regarding the proposed creation of a legal offence of aggravated homosexuality which includes long prison sentences and even the death penalty; if this will be raised in Ireland's capacity as a member of the UN Human Rights Council; if this will be a consideration in any future allocation of development aid to the Ugandan Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55187/12]
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Ireland, together with our partners in the European Union, share the widespread concerns in relation to the draft Anti-Homosexuality Bill which is currently under consideration at committee level in the Ugandan Parliament. We have been advocating strongly against the adoption of the proposed law. I raised the issue directly with President Museveni when I visited Uganda in July and I asked our Ambassador in Kampala to continue to follow developments closely. She and a group of EU Ambassadors outlined our serious concerns in a recent meeting with the Prime Minister of Uganda. The regular structured EU political dialogue with the Government of Uganda also provides an important opportunity to highlight our concerns directly.
In our dealings with the Government of Uganda we have made the case that the passing of any such legislation would be in conflict with Uganda’s international human rights obligations and would have a detrimental effect on the country’s relations with its international development partners, including Ireland. The position of the Government of Uganda on the proposed law is that it was presented as a private member’s Bill and is not part of the Government’s legislative programme. President Museveni has made a commitment to engage members of Parliament on the implications of this Bill for Uganda’s international relations and reputation.
We, and our EU and other international partners, remain committed to ensuring that the citizens of Uganda do not suffer violence or discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation, including through our role as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. Our Embassy in Uganda will continue to monitor developments closely in the coming weeks.
In relation to our development cooperation funding for Uganda, this has been provided for agreed programmes in the social, health and education sectors, through a number of channels. The programmes are regularly examined and evaluated to ensure we achieve effectiveness and value for money. As the Deputy will be aware, I have suspended all Irish Aid funding for programmes delivered through the Government of Uganda as a result of the misappropriation of funds intended for the Peace, Recovery and Development Programme. Until these funds are restored and we are fully confident that the authorities have strengthened internal financial controls and acted against all officials implicated in the fraud, the suspension of all funding through the Government of Uganda will remain in place.
119. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which it has been found possible directly or in consort with his EU or UN colleagues to ascertain the basis on which an Irish citizen (details supplied) for more than twenty years has been detained in prison without charge for the past five years in Sri Lanka in violation of human rights and international law; if the appropriate bodies at EU and UN level are aware of the full circumstances in the case; if such detention is deemed acceptable; if any particular steps have been taken or are contemplated with a view to ensuring that the person’s rights as an Irish citizen are observed in the spirit and letter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55354/12]
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): As the Deputy may be aware from previous replies in relation to this Irish citizen, my officials remain in close and direct contact with the person’s spouse and family and liaise directly with them on any request for assistance or on any development on this case. The Ambassador and officers in the Embassy in New Delhi, which is accredited to Sri Lanka, have also been very active in pursuit of progress in this difficult case. I met with the person’s spouse, daughter and other family representatives of the person mentioned by the Deputy on 29 February 2012. The person’s spouse and other family representatives also met with the Head of the Consular Division on 28 May 2012. As a result of these meetings I once again wrote to the Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs on 18 June 2012, urging on behalf of the Government of Ireland that the person mentioned by the Deputy be either released or charged at the earliest opportunity. I also informed the Minister of External Affairs that I would like to personally meet with him in the margins of any international meeting at which we are both present, to discuss the case, should the opportunity arise. A response to my letter is awaited.
The Sir Lankan authorities have confirmed that the person named by the Deputy is being detained under emergency legislation relating to the prevention of terrorism. The case of the person mentioned by the Deputy has been raised with the EU Delegation in Colombo. My Department will continue to liaise with the EU Delegation and follow developments closely. I intend writing to Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to seek her assistance on the human rights aspects of the case.
Sri Lanka underwent its Universal Periodic Review, or UPR, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 1st of November this year. In advance questions to Sri Lanka, Ireland raised the issue of legal safeguards for persons suspected or charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, stressing the importance of trials taking place within a reasonable time frame. Ireland also requested information on any actions taken or plans to begin a process of reintegration for those in detention following the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka in May 2009, or information on any plans to begin legal proceedings in accordance with due process against those in detention. Finally, Ireland recommended that the Government of Sri Lanka take steps to ensure that all detainees are afforded a fair trial within a reasonable time period.
There has been a significant development in the case in the past few days where his lawyers informed the person’s family that the Sri Lankan authorities would formally charge him on Monday 10 December 2012. When, he appeared before the court, the case was postponed to Tuesday, 18 December 2012. Our Embassy in New Delhi has been informed of this and, while they are precluded from intervening in any way in judicial proceedings, they will continue to provide all possible consular assistance.
I am most conscious and concerned about the fact that the person mentioned by the Deputy has now spent five years in detention without charge. I can assure the Deputy that I and my officials will render all possible consular assistance.
120. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress made to date on the introduction of an E-3 visa for Irish citizens wishing to work in the United States of America; the discussions, if any, that have taken place with representatives on Capitol Hill on the implementation of comprehensive immigration reform in the USA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55423/12]
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): The outcome of the recent US Presidential election would appear to have advanced the prospects for the necessary reform of US immigration systems and procedures that would help improve the situation of undocumented Irish immigrants in the United States. Much further debate and discussion is likely to be required within the US political system as to what such reform might comprise. Through our Embassy in Washington and in close liaison with Irish-American community representatives, our contacts with the US Administration and Congress will intensify even further over the coming weeks and months with a view to ensuring that the interests and concerns of undocumented Irish immigrants are fully reflected in any future legislative deal that emerges in this area. A resolution of the situation for undocumented Irish migrants in the US will also continue to be pursued by myself and the Taoiseach at every suitable opportunity. Most recently, I discussed the issue of E-3 visas and comprehensive immigration reform with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to Dublin.
121. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade further to Parliamentary Question No. 237 of 4 December 2012, if he will provide a list of all new services across his Department that have been tested for external service delivery since March 2011. [55432/12]
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Since March 2011, my Department has introduced the Certificate of Irish Heritage scheme. Having considered the technology and marketing expertise required to underpin the successful operation of the Certificate of Irish Heritage internationally, the Department decided to implement the service as a concession. This concession was awarded to FEXCO following a public tender published in April, 2010.
Under the terms of a concession agreement dated 26 May, 2011, the programme is operated on behalf of my Department by FEXCO on a cost-neutral basis to the Department. The Agreement provides that FEXCO develop the web systems and necessary software and also process applications, issue certificates and be the initial point of contact for all customer enquiries. The initial one year contract was renewed earlier this year for a second year.
122. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the criteria pertaining to obtaining Irish language versions of passports; if it is the case that only the name on the applicants official birth certificate is acceptable and that this negates against those wishing to use the Irish version of their name; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55504/12]
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): At the outset, I should point out that the standard printed text detail on each passport is jointly in the Irish and English languages. Other languages appear in a much smaller degree in the text on the data and observation pages of the book. The text and format of this print meets ICAO standards and is consistent with best international practice.
In terms of the name that can appear on a passport, Section 10 of the Passports Act, 2008 (the Act) broadly provides that a passport will issue in the name of a citizen as it appears on his/her birth certificate. If the Irish form of the name is registered on the birth certificate, then this is the name which would appear on the passport. However, name change from that which appears on a person’s birth certificate is permitted under the Act for example in situations such as marriage.
Moreover, where the requested name to appear on the passport is the Irish version of the English registered birth name, the Passport Service requires evidence of the use of this new name and identity over a two year period. There is discretion under the Act in terms of the two year proof of usage requirement. While such discretion has been normally applied in the past in cases of domestic abuse etc, care must be taken to mitigate the risk that name change requests are being used for identity swapping purposes. Such activity would put the high international regard for the integrity of the Irish passport at risk.
The Passport Service has put in place an alternative option to assist citizens who wish to use the Irish form of his/her name, but who lack the necessary two years proof of use. In these circumstances the birth cert name will continue to be personalised on the passport with, additionally, the Irish form of the name added as an observation on his/her passport. Once the two year proof of usage has been obtained, the passport holder can re-apply for a new passport in his/her Irish name without any observation.
This policy seeks to protect the integrity and security of our passports against passport or identity fraud, while at the same time facilitating those genuine citizens, who wish to use the Irish language more frequently in their daily lives.
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): The VRT reliefs for electric vehicles (up to €5,000), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (up to €2,500), and hybrid and flexible fuel vehicles (up to €1,500), which were due to end on 31 December 2012, have been retained for a further 12 months to end December 2013.
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): NewERA has been established within the NTMA, initially on a non-statutory basis. It is performing a centralised shareholder advisory role from a financial and commercial perspective in respect of corporate governance matters for five commercial semi-state companies: ESB, Bord Gais Eireann, EirGrid, Bord na Mona and Coillte. It is providing advice to Government Departments in relation to a range of financial activities in these commercial State companies including investment proposals, corporate plans, capital expenditure projects, financial statements, funding proposals and other items required by statute and by the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies. It is also assisting from a financial perspective in the development and implementation of Government plans for investment in energy, water and next-generation telecommunications and is working closely with the relevant Government Departments in these areas.
In addition, where requested by Government, it is carrying out advisory and oversight roles in relation to the possible restructuring or disposal of commercial State company assets. NewERA’s role in these disposal processes is to assist and advise the relevant Government Departments in representing the Government’s financial interests in the context of assets disposals and to ensure that Government-agreed timelines and financial objectives are clearly communicated to the relevant parties. It is also the responsibility of NewERA to ensure that the Government Steering Group overseeing the transactions is kept fully informed of progress and developments with the goal of ensuring that the financial objectives of the process are achieved. My Department is currently preparing legislation to put NewERA on a statutory basis.
125. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the number of personal and or commercial loan accounts in Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, in which he is the shareholder of 100% of the shares, were found to have been charged interest rates in excess of those permitted by contractual arrangements between bank and customer and the amount of money and or credit that was refunded to such accounts in 2009, 2010 and 2011. [55094/12]
128. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation or its predecessor repossessed property and or appointed receivers to assets of any account holder who was charged interest rates in excess of those permitted by contractual arrangements between bank and customer. [55097/12]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 125 and 128 together.
I have been advised that it is not the practice of IBRC to disclose detailed information in relation to the dealings of any individual account holder with the Bank. However, the Bank has informed me that it previously disclosed that it had made a provision of €67m, following an internal review of historical interest rate setting procedures, as applied to certain loan accounts. This internal review, which was conducted in 2010, addressed the period from 1990 to 2005 to determine whether interest rates applied to customer loan accounts were consistent with the terms of the customer loan documentation. The Bank is nearing completion of this project and has made refunds to affected customers. The total cost of the refunds is now estimated at €45m to €50m.
126. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the number of personal and or commercial loan accounts in Allied Irish Banks, in which he is the shareholder of 99.8% of the shares, including the Educational Building Society, were found to have been charged interest rates in excess of those permitted by contractual arrangements between bank and customer and the amount of money and or credit that was refunded to such accounts in 2009, 2010 and 2011. [55095/12]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I have been informed by the bank that any queries related to matters such as instances of potential overcharging are dealt with on a case by case basis by the bank with individual customers. Any potential broader issues which affect a greater population of customers are dealt with via established procedures in consultation with the Central Bank as regulator.
127. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the number of personal and or commercial loan accounts in Permanent TSB, in which he is the shareholder of 99.5% of the shares, were found to have been charged interest rates in excess of those permitted by contractual arrangements between bank and customer and the amount of money and or credit that was refunded to such accounts in 2009, 2010 and 2011. [55096/12]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I have been advised that Permanent TSB has approximately 1.8 million customer accounts. Given this volume of accounts it is inevitable that from time to time errors will arise and Permanent TSB is committed to minimising such errors, and where they do occur, ensuring that the errors are rectified as soon as possible. Permanent TSB has informed me that in the years 2009-2011 inclusive there have been incorrect interest rates charged on a total of 838 accounts. This represents less than 0.05% of the number of accounts in operation during that time. The total amount of refunds given was €4.3 million, the majority of which occurred in 2010. During this time period PTSB had interest receivable of €3.8 billion so the total amount refunded is just 0.1% of interest receivable in the period.
The data relates to mortgage loans where the customer paid an interest rate in excess of the agreed rate. These errors have been notified through the Banks Customer Impact process or through a project forum from 2009 to date. Customers impacted by these errors have received remediation in compliance with the Consumer Protection Code and the Central Bank was advised as required under that Code.
129. Deputy Kevin Humphreys asked the Minister for Finance the amount of public money invested by the State in the Bank of Ireland since 2008; the fees paid by the bank for the various deposit guarantees since then; the other sums paid by the bank to the state for repurchase of warrants and any other fees; what is our preference share holding and what is the coupon rate; the amount that has been paid to date and the amount that will be paid in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55117/12]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): As detailed in the table the State’s total net notional cash investment in Bank of Ireland (BOI) at 7/12/2012 was €2.1 billion. The State’s current investment in BOI is:
In the period 30/09/2008 to 13/11/2012 BOI liabilities covered by Exceptional Guarantees have reduced from €136 billion to less than €28 billion. In its Interim Management Statement issued on 13/11/2012 BOI advised that “we are prepared for and ready for the expiry of the ELG”.
BOI have informed me that they cannot forecast potential future coupon payments to the State under the 2009 Preference Shares or 2011 Contingent Capital investment as this would require assumptions regarding the future ownership and /or longevity of these instruments.
130. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Finance his plans to reduce the amount of expenses received by developers and builders whose properties or businesses are in the National Assets Management Agency. [55139/12]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): This is an operational matter for NAMA. However, I am advised by NAMA that, where necessary for the preservation and enhancement of the value of property securing its loans, it permits the retention of appropriate overheads by debtors. NAMA advises that it has typically required debtors to reduce their business overheads by between 50% and 75% on the levels prevailing prior to its acquisition of loans. The alternative to retaining debtors in this capacity is to appoint insolvency practitioners and I understand that this is a more expensive option which NAMA seeks to avoid, where possible, given its mandate to protect the interests of taxpayers.
131. Deputy Regina Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the changes in auditing and regulatory practices that have been enacted since the banking crash in 2008 and since the appointment of a person (details supplied) as head of regulation at the Central Bank of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55186/12]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I have been informed by my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, that Directive 2006/43/EC of the 17 August 2006 introduced new rules on statutory audits of annual accounts and consolidated accounts. The Directive provides for the reinforcement and harmonisation of the statutory audit function throughout the EU. It clarifies the duties of statutory auditors and provides for their independence and ethical standards; introduces a requirement for external quality assurance; provides for public oversight of the audit profession, including third country auditors, and improved cooperation between oversight bodies in the EU. It also provides a basis for international cooperation between regulators in the EU and in third countries. It also requires listed companies to set up an audit committee with clear functions to perform.
In relation to financial regulatory practices, the Central Bank Reform Act 2010, replaced the previously related bodies, the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland and the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, with a single unitary body, the Central Bank of Ireland (the Bank) and provided for new powers to be exercised by the Bank to ensure the fitness and probity of nominees to key positions within financial service providers and of key office-holders within those providers.
Following on from the Central Bank Reform Act, 2010, the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill was published in July 2011. The bill enhances the Central Bank’s regulatory powers, drawing on the lessons of the recent past in Ireland and abroad, and strengthens the ability of the Central Bank to impose and supervise compliance with regulatory requirements and to undertake timely prudential interventions. The bill also provides the Central Bank with greater access to information and analysis and underpins the credible enforcement of Irish financial services legislation in line with international best practice. The Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011 is expected to be enacted in the first quarter of 2013.
During 2011, the Bank updated its action plan for strengthening supervision of credit institutions across a comprehensive range of areas. As part of its supervisory work, the Bank launched PRISM (Probability Risk and Impact System), its new risk assessment framework which establishes a new adaptive approach for supervisory engagement with regulated firms.
The Bank published a revised Consumer Protection Code in October 2011. The review of the Code, which came into effect on 1 January 2012, represents the most significant strengthening of protections for consumers of financial institutions since the launch of the initial Code in August 2006.
The Central Bank advises me that its regulatory activity has intensified with increases in staff numbers and skill levels. The Central Bank has also taken a number of measures under its "Banking Supervision - our new approach" to banking supervision which they introduced in June 2010 and updated in June 2011:
132. Deputy Noel Harrington asked the Minister for Finance when a person (details supplied) in County Cork will get receipt of the tax repayment that is due to him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55204/12]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that they have examined the matter and that a repayment in respect of 2011 will issue in this case shortly.
133. Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding a tax rebate claim in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55210/12]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): This is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners who are responsible for the administration of mortgage interest relief through the Tax Relief at Source (TRS) system. I am advised by Revenue that the person in question applied for mortgage interest relief on a top-up loan on 21 April 2009. Relief was initially granted but, due to changes to mortgage interest relief rules, was ceased with effect from June 2009. Revenue wrote to the person in question at that time to establish continued entitlement to the relief in line with the revised mortgage interest relief rules. However no response was received and no further relief was granted. The person in question made a further application for mortgage interest relief in respect of the same loan on 4 October 2012. On receipt of the new application Revenue made contact with the person to further clarify details in relation to the loan and having received the necessary information recommenced payment of the mortgage interest relief. From January 2013, the interest relief will be paid at source through the mortgage provider while the arrears relating to the years 2009 to 2012 will be paid directly to the individual by Revenue in the coming weeks.
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