Thursday, 17 January 2013
Dáil Éireann Debate
10. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Finance if he will ensure that the acquisition of near to maturity loans by the SME Credit Fund established recently by the National Pension Reserve Fund will be done in a manner that does not disadvantage small and medium enterprises; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1996/13]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): As part of the redeployment of the NPRF towards commercial investment in Ireland, the NPRF Commission announced on 9th January its commitment to a suite of three long term funds to provide equity, credit and restructuring investment to SME and mid-sized corporates. The SME funds represent a further step in the redeployment of the NPRF towards commercial investment in the Irish economy. By committing its resources as a cornerstone investor, the NPRF is seeking to act as catalyst for attracting additional investment from third-party investors into funds targeted at areas of strategic importance to the economy. One of the three funds is the SME Credit Fund, to be managed by BlueBay, a specialist credit manager wholly owned by the Royal Bank of Canada, and in respect of which a Letter of Intent has been signed. The objective is that this fund will be operational in the second quarter of 2013. Lending by the SME Credit Fund will be at competitive market rates with loan sizes ranging from €5 million to €50 million with an estimated average size of €15 million. Returns to investors in the fund will vary according to their position in the fund’s capital structure. The NPRF is solely an investor in the fund and plays no part whatsoever in any investment decisions by any of the funds.
The strategy of the SME Credit Fund will be a combination of origination of loans to SMEs and mid-sized corporates and acquisition of similar loans, particularly from banks that are exiting the Irish market who may be less willing to renew facilities. The SME Credit Fund may also acquire and refinance loans close to maturity where existing lenders are not willing to provide new lines of credit. This is an important aspect in improving the availability of debt financing to SMEs, ensuring that companies will continue to have access to long-term credit facilities, as financial institutions exiting the Irish market may not be prepared to provide such long-term finance or may do so only on a short-term basis with less favourable terms.
The SME Credit Fund’s objective is to provide long-term finance and to be fully repaid out of business cashflow and transactions. This will be a seven-year fund with a need to earn income over that period. There is no element within the SME Credit Fund strategy of acquiring distressed loans with a view to obtaining control.
The manner in which managers of funds invested in by the NPRF engage with the Irish market is extremely important to the NPRF. When making the decision to invest in a fund, the NPRF seeks to ensure that both a commercial return is generated and that the fund’s impact on the market and its client companies is a positive one over the long term.
Ultimately, if the SME credit fund is to build the necessary lending platform and scale to generate a commercial return over its seven-year life, it needs to be competitive and successful in the marketplace in developing a high quality book of loans. Therefore, its product and style of operation, both in loan origination and management of loans acquired, will need to be such that it is attractive, relative to the competition, to companies wishing to raise debt finance.
One of the key priorities of the Programme for Government is to ensure that an adequate pool of credit is available to fund SMEs in the real economy. The involvement of BlueBay Asset Management LLP, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), as manager of the SME Credit Fund increases lenders in the market.
Other initiatives to provide credit to SMEs includes setting up the SME Funding Consultation Committee, imposing lending targets on pillar banks, reviewing lending plans that the pillar banks are required to submit and liaising with the Credit Review Office. The credit stream available to SMEs also includes the Microenterprise Loan Scheme and the Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme.
12. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Finance if he will commit to an external expert examination of the asset disposal programme undertaken by the State supporter banks to ensure that taxpayer interests are being protected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1992/13]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): As you will be aware as part of the Central Bank’s Financial Measures Programme 2011 the three PLAR banks are required to deleverage c.€70bn of assets by 31 December 2013. Of this they were required to actively dispose of c.€34bn of assets. Each bank agreed comprehensive deleveraging plans to achieve these deleveraging requirements. The CBI has identified the PCAR haircuts within which the banks are required to deleverage their non-core assets with the over-riding safeguard that fire-sales of assets beyond these haircuts are to be avoided. Both BOI and AIB are currently on track to achieve their Year-end 2013 deleveraging targets. PTSB’s programme has been largely postponed pending the EC’s decision on its Restructuring Plan. IBRC is subject to an EC Restructuring Plan which requires it to work out its balance sheet over time, including where possible via disposal of loan books.
To achieve this, each of the banks established dedicated non-core units focused on managing sales processes and are required to report quarterly to the Central Bank which monitors their progress in achieving their deleveraging programmes. Each bank has a deleveraging/transaction committee to govern, monitor and oversee its deleveraging plans. Representatives from my department and the Central Bank attend the meetings of those committees, as non-voting observers. My department has established a Deleveraging Review Committee to oversee and monitor the operation of the institutions’ deleveraging committees and to refer transactions that give rise to financial stability considerations to the Central Bank for joint consideration. Additionally, each quarter, the banks and the Authorities meet with and update the External Partners (IMF/EU/ECB) as to the progress of the banks deleveraging plans including asset sales. There is significant external oversight.
In most instances the banks have also employed expert professional sales advisors to assist in ensuring that the sales processes undertaken maximise sales proceeds. These processes are conducted under strict confidentiality rules to ensure the economic position of the banks, and by extension the taxpayer as majority or part owner, is fully protected. As referred to above, the Deleveraging Committees and the main boards of the banks must approve all material sales conducted by the banks.
To date significant progress has been made. Total deleveraging achieved across government supported banks was €66.5bn as at 30 October 2012. Deleveraging to date has been achieved within average planned assumed discounts. Remaining deleveraging is anticipated to be achieved through run-down and work-out of non-core loan books over time. The asset disposal programmes have largely completed.
The on-going progress in deleveraging and deposit gathering activities has seen BOI make further progress towards improving its Loan to Deposit (LDR) ratio, reducing from 136% at June 2012 to less than 130% in November 2012. Similarly, AIB’s LDR reduced to less than 120% at the end of October (including loans held for sale) from 125% at end of June.
I am not convinced at this juncture in the Programme that value would be obtained for the State/taxpayer in conducting an external examination of the asset disposal programmes given the significant level of oversight to date, significant progress achieved so far and the expectation that the capital absorbed as part of the deleveraging programme will not exceed that assumed in the 2011 Financial Measures Programme undertaken by the CBI.
I will however be kept informed through my officials of on-going progress at each of the banks to ensure that remedial action, if required, can be taken to ensure that the State/taxpayer’s investments are protected.
13. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Finance if he has been requested by any European or international Government or institution to review this State's corporation tax rate and the tax treatment of royalties. [1793/13]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I have not received any request from any European or international institution or Government to review either the State’s corporation tax rate or tax treatment of royalties. The Government's position on Ireland's corporation tax rate is very clear and well known to our EU colleagues and our international partners. The Taoiseach, myself and other members of the Government have repeatedly expressed the Government’s commitment to the retention of the 12.5% rate. I reiterated this commitment as recently as my Budget speech on 6th December last year.
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): The Programme for Government indicated that, as part of its fiscal policy, the Government will ensure that “tax exiles” make a fair contribution to the Exchequer. I have already removed the “citizenship” condition for the Domicile Levy to ensure that individuals can not avoid the levy by renouncing their citizenship. The first year for which the changes apply is tax year 2012; the levy payment for that year is not due until 31 October 2013.
This consultation process has now concluded. A total of eight submissions have been received and these have been published. There was some comment among some submissions regarding possible impact of changes to the residence rules. The present rules are considered clear and workable and the clarity, certainly and stability of our domestic tax regime enables us to compete effectively in the international economic context.
Significant concern was expressed regarding potential impact on Foreign Direct Investment, and that such changes could inhibit investment in Ireland, and result in a loss to the Exchequer rather than raise money. Concerns were similarly expressed about changing the rules with a view to dealing with a small number of cases, and that for a likely small additional yield generated a disproportionate effect could result on a larger proportion of non residents, and bring the Irish tax regime out of line with international standards.
The present rules are considered to be consistent with international practice and in particular with OECD standards. It is the view of the Government that our interests would be best served by operating our residence rules within the best practice guidelines of the OECD.
I am considering the comments made in the submissions in deciding whether to amend the residence rules at this time. As with all tax items, the matter is kept under review. The level and timeframe of any taxation changes in this area will be determined in the context of Budgets over the lifetime of the Government.
15. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Finance if he is satisfied that all registered charities are fully exempt from the local property tax in respect of properties used in carrying out their charitable activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2013/13]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Section 7 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 provides that exemption from the Local Property Tax will be available to a public body or to other bodies that have been granted a charitable tax exemption from Revenue, where the properties in question are used for people with special accommodation needs. Special accommodation needs refers to the provision of housing and support for people who have a particular need in addition to a housing need to enable them to live in the community. This includes the elderly, people with disabilities, people who have been homeless and victims of domestic violence. The Government is aware of the important role played by the Approved Housing Bodies in the provision of housing for those who face difficulty in living in our communities. To the extent that such groups are charities and are engaged in the provision of special needs housing, they should be eligible for the exemption for such housing which is provided for in the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012. I understand that most of the various bodies that comprise the voluntary and co-operative sector in respect of the provision of social housing would have been approved for charitable status by the Revenue Commissioners. Indeed, such bodies must have such charitable status before they can be approved by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government for funding to be used in the provision of social housing.
However, such groups also provide general needs housing in the same way as a local authority provides such housing. Depending on the level of local authority funding provided, some voluntary bodies may have flexibility to provide housing for those not eligible for local authority housing. To provide for a blanket exemption for such bodies would obviously be inequitable vis-à-vis local authorities, whose properties are subject to the Local Property Tax. For this reason the Government decided not to accept the recommendation of the inter-Departmental Group chaired by Dr Don Thornhill on the design of a property tax (the “Thornhill Group”) that all charitable bodies should be exempt but to restrict the exemption to those properties that are used to provide accommodation to persons who, for reasons of old age, physical or mental disability or other cause need special accommodation and support to enable them to live in the community.
Nonetheless, I acknowledge that government policy places significant emphasis on the approved housing body sector as an important part of social housing supply in the future. The Government will actively engage with Approved Housing Bodies to ensure that the Local Property Tax does not impact on their ability to deliver housing units.
16. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Finance the strategy of the National Asset Management Agency in attracting third party investment to participate on a risk basis in the development of property under the auspices of NAMA. [1783/13]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I am advised by NAMA that it utilises a number of asset management strategies to monetise its portfolio, including the sale of individual assets or portfolios of assets and loans sale. A key element in NAMA’s strategic planning also is recognition of the need to invest to preserve and enhance the value of its assets in line with anticipated as well as current demand conditions. NAMA advises that, in this context, it considers a range of project financing and delivery mechanisms, including joint venture arrangements where these make commercial sense. In particular, where NAMA acquires properties directly onto its balance sheet, its preference would be to form joint ventures with suitable partners who, along with NAMA, can introduce upfront equity and who, in turn, can avail of third party or NAMA debt financing. NAMA will consider joint venture development arrangements with suitable counter-parties on commercial terms that mitigate development and commercial risk for NAMA and optimise the financial returns for the taxpayer.
17. Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for Finance the evidence he has or research he has undertaken to back his assertion that imposing the proposed financial transaction tax here would lead to a significant migration of financial services businesses and related jobs to London or that any such losses would outweigh the benefits of introducing the FTT in terms of increased tax revenue; if he will provide such evidence and research; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1985/13]
38. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Finance the evidence he has or research he has undertaken to back his assertion that imposing the proposed Financial Transaction Tax here would lead to a significant migration of financial services business and related jobs to London or that any such losses would outweigh the benefits of introducing the FTT in terms of increased tax revenue; if he will provide such evidence and research; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1983/13]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 38 together.
18. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Finance the methodology and process that will be used by the Revenue Commissioners in the assessment of the property tax on private homes, local authority properties and those owned by approved housing associations. [1778/13]
37. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide an update on the discussions between his Department and the Revenue Commissioners on the detail of the valuation and collection of the property tax. [1777/13]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 37 together.
My Department is in regular contact with the Revenue Commissioners with regard to the implementation of this tax through the Interdepartmental Group which was set up to oversee the introduction of Local Property Tax (LPT) and through bilateral discussions with Revenue.
The legislation governing the Local Property Tax is contained in Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 and was signed into law by the President on 26 December 2012. The Act sets out how the tax is to be administered and also provides how a residential property is to be valued for LPT purposes, and I set out at some length in a reply to a series of questions yesterday how various aspects of the tax will be administered.
I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that LPT is a self-assessment tax so in the first instance it is a matter for the property owner to calculate the tax due based on his or her assessment of the chargeable value of the property. The Revenue Commissioners will not be valuing properties for LPT purposes except where there is a dispute about a valuation provided by a taxpayer, which, because of the banding system, is expected to be in a minority of cases.
Revenue is, however, actively preparing valuation guidance and developing tools to assist liable persons in assessing the value of their property which will be made available as soon as possible. Where these guidelines are used honestly, the property valuation will not be challenged by Revenue in accordance with its normal Customer Service Charter. The guidelines will include drawing property owner’s attention to the publicly available property price register which includes some 62,000 of reasonably recent property prices, and a method to help property owners establish average/indicative values for properties in different locations.
For 2013, the charge to LPT is based on the market value of the property on 1 May 2013. In addition, in order to provide necessary certainty, this initial valuation of the property on 1 May 2013 will be the value of the property for the purposes of calculating the LPT charge for all years up to and including 2016. This value will hold regardless of improvements, extensions etc. to the property in question. Likewise, where a property is sold during this period, and the value of the property has increased substantially, there is no additional liability to LPT, once the initial valuation has been given honestly and fairly.
I am advised by Revenue that beginning in March 2013, they will be issuing property owners an LPT tax return, an information booklet and a Revenue Estimate of LPT. Having established the market value of their property, property owners are obliged to complete the LPT return in which they calculate the amount of tax they owe and state how they will pay the LPT due from a range of options. For 2013, the LPT return, if completed in paper form, must be submitted to Revenue by 7 May 2013, whereas, if they complete the form online, it must be submitted by 28 May 2013.
I am also informed that the payment options available to the property owner include payment in full using a debit or credit card, a single debit authority to deduct from a nominated bank or by way of cash payment to certain service providers. Alternatively, phased payments can be made by the property owner using direct debit, cash payments or by deduction at source from employment or occupational pension income or from certain payments from the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Where a property owner fails to submit his/her LPT return by the relevant due date, the legislation provides that Revenue can enforce collection of an estimated amount of LPT. The Revenue Commissioners advise that this Revenue Estimate of LPT is not a valuation of their property nor should it be regarded as an accurate calculation of the amount of LPT that they should pay. Once property owners meet their obligations by valuing their property, submitting their return and advising Revenue of their payment preference within the relevant time limits, the Revenue Estimate of LPT notified to them is no longer relevant.
In general, the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 provides that local authorities are liable for the tax in the same way as any other residential property owner unless the properties are used to accommodate people with special housing needs. An approved housing association will be similarly liable for LPT on any residential properties that they own unless these properties are used to accommodate people with special housing needs, provided the housing association operates as a charity and has been granted an exemption for tax purposes by Revenue. I am further informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they are currently liaising with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and with the voluntary social housing sector to establish how local authorities and voluntary housing organisations, respectively, will notify any LPT liability that they have to Revenue and how they will pay the amount due.
19. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Finance the progress made in respect of re-organising Permanent TSB and its plans to meet consumer banking needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2009/13]
Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): A way forward for Permanent TSB was agreed with the Troika in April 2012 which envisaged it playing an important role in the future of Irish retail banking, being a more focused retail bank bringing an element of competition to the marketplace which has consolidated significantly since 2008. In this regard Permanent TSB submitted a Restructuring Plan to the European Commission in June 2012. Permanent TSB has made significant progress in delivering its Restructuring Plan and has announced plans to lend c €450 million for Mortgages, Personal Loans and Credit Cards in 2013, a significant increase on the €90 million lent in 2012.
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