Header Item Written Answers Nos. 77-83
 Header Item Property Taxation Exemptions
 Header Item Credit Union Issues
 Header Item Illicit Trade in Tobacco
 Header Item Property Taxation Administration
 Header Item Higher Education Schemes
 Header Item Higher Education Institutions Expenditure
 Header Item Special Educational Needs Services Provision

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Unrevised

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Written Answers Nos. 77-83

Property Taxation Exemptions

 77. Deputy Helen McEntee Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan if a family (details supplied) in County Meath may be exempt from the local property tax on the grounds that the family home had extensive adaptions carried out in 1996 to accommodate a severely disabled dependent at which time the extension was more than 25% of the value of the house. [21803/13]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that Section 10 (as amended) of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 provides that a permanently and totally incapacitated person is exempt from payment of LPT where the property is occupied as his/her sole or main residence and where he/she has received a personal injury compensation or is a beneficiary under a qualifying trust.

I am further advised that Section 15A (as amended) of the Act provides for a reduction in the market value of a residential property that has been adapted for occupation by a disabled person, as defined within Section 2 of the Disability Act 2005, where the adaptation has been grant-aided or approved for grant aid by a local authority under either of the following:

(1) Housing (Adaptation Grants for older people and people with disabilities) Regulations 2007;

(2) Regulation 4 of the Housing (Disabled Persons and Essential Repairs Grants) Regulations 2001.

In regard to the case in question, because sufficient details were not provided to enable Revenue fully determine the persons right to exemption from LPT, an official contacted the people involved to clarify issues and offer any other assistance that might be required to help them meet their LPT filing and payment obligations. The discussions confirmed that the person in question is not entitled to an exemption, which was accepted by those involved. The Revenue official offered advice on how to apply for a reduction of market value based on the adaptation work that was completed to the property and those involved indicated that they would follow up on the advice offered.

Credit Union Issues

 78. Deputy Jack Wall Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan his views on a submission (details supplied) regarding a credit union special manager in County Kildare; the actions planned in relation to resolving this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21808/13]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The decision to apply to the High Court for the appointment of a Special Manager is a matter for the Governor of the Central Bank, following consultation with myself as Minister for Finance. On 13 January 2012, the Central Bank of Ireland secured a High Court Order for the appointment of a Special Manager to Newbridge Credit Union. Further High Court applications were made in June 2012 and January 2013 to extend the term of appointment of the Special Manager and High Court Orders were secured for a 6 month extension period on each occasion.

This action was taken to strengthen Newbridge Credit Union, protect members’ savings and ensure that Newbridge Credit Union can continue to operate effectively, providing financial services to the local community. The Special Manager replaces the management and Board of Newbridge Credit Union and his primary role is to establish the financial position and bring forward a business plan.

Illicit Trade in Tobacco

 79. Deputy Seán Kyne Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan if his attention has been drawn to the recent Grant Thronton report on tobacco and the shadow economy which shows that up to €800 million is being lost per annum in State revenue; if he will consider reviewing and reforming the existing anti-smuggling and anti-counterfeit measures to prevent such a significant loss to the State. [21869/13]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I am aware of the report on “Illicit Trade in Ireland”, prepared for Retail Ireland by Grant Thornton, that was published last week, focusing in particular on the fuel, tobacco, digital piracy and pharmaceuticals sectors.

  I understand that the report looks at the costs associated with illicit trade in these sectors. Estimating the extent of any illicit activity is, of course inherently problematic and must be approached with caution. It follows that unless a credible methodology is specified for estimates of illicit trade and the associated tax loss, they must be regarded as speculative. Reflecting these difficulties, the report acknowledges that there are a wide variety of estimates, ranging between €418 million and €937 million, for the loss of revenue to the Exchequer from illicit activity in the sectors concerned.

  All interested parties are agreed, nevertheless, that illicit trade in the sectors addressed by the report, and shadow economy activities in general, pose a threat to legitimate and compliant businesses, as well as depriving the Government of tax revenues. Tackling the illegal activities in those sectors, and broader black economy activities, is therefore a key priority.

  I am informed that the report estimates the tax losses in the tobacco sector due to illicit trade in 2012 at €569m. This appears to be a tobacco industry figure, with which the Revenue Commissioners and other commentators would not agree. A survey is carried out annually on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners and the National Tobacco Control office of the Health Services Executive on the extent of consumption of illicit cigarettes in the State. This survey is carried out annually across a representative group of the public in a consistent, comprehensive, reliable and robust manner and the survey results distinguish the non-Irish duty paid product between product legally purchased abroad and product that is illegal.   The survey for 2012 indicates that 13 per cent of cigarettes consumed were illegal; this corresponds to an Exchequer loss, in excise duty and VAT, of €240m. I am assured that the annual survey of the Revenue Commissioners is a good indicator of the extent of the penetration of the Irish market by the illegal trade.

  Extensive enforcement action by the Revenue Commissioners against the smuggling and sale of illicit cigarettes and other tobacco products resulted, during 2012, in the seizure of 95.6 million cigarettes and 5,276 kilograms of tobacco. There were 22 convictions on indictment and 110 summary convictions during the year for offences related to the smuggling or sale of illicit cigarettes and tobacco.

  I am advised that the report says, in relation to illicit activity in the fuel sector, that little progress has been made to tackle this important issue. This is not true. Recognising the threat that this illegal activity poses to the exchequer and to legitimate business, the Revenue Commissioners adopted a comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem. This strategy encompasses the following elements:

- A strengthening of the licensing regime for auto fuel traders with effect from September 2011.

- A new licensing regime for marked fuel traders with effect from October 2012.

- The introduction by Regulation of new requirements in relation to fuel traders’ records of stock movements and fuel deliveries to ensure data are available to assist in supply chain analysis.

- The introduction of new supply chain controls from January 2013 that require all licensed fuel traders to make monthly electronic returns to Revenue of their fuel transactions. The first returns were received by Revenue in February. I understand that the Revenue Commissioners have instituted a process of rigorous analysis of these returns. This will support the development of a comprehensive overview of supply patterns and the identification of suspicious or anomalous transactions, and facilitate robust follow-up enforcement action where necessary.

  - An intensified targeting, in co-operation with other law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border, of fuel laundering.

  - An intensified targeting, in co-operation with other law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border, of the illicit sale of laundered products. This involved a concentration on building intelligence, gaining an understanding of the supply chain, applying analytics to available data, embarking on a strategy of closing down stations that were in breach of legislation and/or regulations and working collaboratively .with other law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. One of the objectives is to cause maximum disruption to laundering plants and networks and to prevent the trading by stations that are operating outside the law.

  - The Revenue Commissioners held discussions with HM Revenue & Customs in the UK on regulatory measures to tackle the laundering of fuel and the two administrations signed a Memorandum of Understanding in May 2012 on a joint approach to finding a more effective marker for use in both jurisdictions. An Invitation to Make Submissions was published in June 2012. The twelve submissions received by the deadline in November 2012, are currently being evaluated.

  Revenue’s enforcement strategy in the fuel sector has yielded significant results. In the period 2011 to 2012, over 2 million litres of fuel was seized, 20 fuel laundries were detected and product and ancillary equipment seized, and 89 filling stations which were found to be unlicensed, or in breach of licensing conditions, were closed.

  In the case of counterfeit goods, the role of the Revenue Commissioners is to prevent the entry of such goods into the State from outside the EU, and this has resulted in significant seizures of counterfeit goods in recent years. In 2012, there were 5,580 seizures involving 142,100 items, with an estimated value of €5.45m. The range of items seized includes clothing, personal effects, electronic goods, cosmetics and medicines.

  Enforcement action in relation to the national sale and distribution   of such goods is a matter for An Garda Síochána. I understand that there is close cooperation between the Revenue Commissioners and An Garda Síochána in tackling the counterfeit trade, and that there is also ongoing international cooperation on the matter.

  I am advised also that the Revenue Commissioners are conscious that the persons responsible for illegal activities in the sectors with which the report is primarily concerned are constantly looking for new ways to circumvent legal requirements and avoid detection and that Revenue’s approach must, therefore, be flexible and adaptable. Accordingly, the Revenue Commissioners continuously review their enforcement methodologies. Revenue also advise me that the support of legitimate business in contributing to Revenue’s information and intelligence is important.

  As I stated, I understand that the Revenue Commissioners continuously review their methodologies and their legislative requirements and where necessary I will of course, give careful consideration to any proposals that might be put to me in that regard.

Property Taxation Administration

 80. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan if he will seek an immediate explanation from the Revenue Commissioners regarding the issues that have arisen with the payment system for the local property tax; the way it is proposed to address these matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21870/13]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I am advised by Revenue that over 500,000 people have already successfully filed their LPT Returns to date, and either paid immediately or selected one of the other available payment options. The April tax receipts reported that some €22m has already been paid to the Exchequer in respect of LPT. The high volumes of filers and payments received suggest that most people are successfully interacting with the payments systems and meeting their obligations in a timely fashion.

To ensure continued high compliance rates Revenue is providing a dedicated LPT helpline at 1890 200 255 to assist any person that might be experiencing some difficulties in navigating the various payment or filing options and this service is proving to be very beneficial in supporting people in meeting their LPT obligations. Revenue has confirmed to me that the LPT helpline is currently experiencing heavy volumes of phone calls from the public ranging from 9,000 calls on 24 April to 15,000 calls on 1 May. I am assured that the vast majority of callers are very satisfied with the service being provided.

In regard to the specific case highlighted by the Deputy, it seems that the issue relates to confirmation of a payment of LPT, which was made via the Revenue on-line system. That being the case, the person in question can personally view his/her payment record. The person can view his/her LPT balance, via Revenue.ie, once the payment is fully processed and available to Revenue. Debit/Credit card payments for instance can take up to one week to be cleared by the card service providers. Revenue has no influence on the duration of the clearance period for card payments. A payment confirmation number is generated as a receipt of payment for the customer. Once the payment is cleared and updated to the person’s LPT (Revenue) account then he/she will be able to view the balance online.

Revenue very carefully monitors the LPT Helpline to ensure the quality of service is of the highest order. The call centre operations are supervised at all times and are subject to ongoing scrutiny through call evaluation and ‘mystery shopper’ campaigns. Unfortunately it is not possible for Revenue to isolate the call to which the Deputy has referred to from the information supplied. However, all the calls to the helpline are recorded. Therefore if the Deputy could provide additional information such as the name and address of the person, the date and time of call, name of operator if available and phone number from which the call was made, Revenue will fully investigate the complaint.

Higher Education Schemes

 81. Deputy Finian McGrath Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn if he will provide the name of a contact person, number or email of an official in Springboard to advise and assist a group (details supplied) who wish to set up a hub to develop innovation and entrepreneurship.  [21662/13]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn Springboard is a specific initiative that provides part time higher education places for unemployed people in areas where there are identified labour market skills shortages or employment opportunities. All courses approved for funding under Springboard are selected by an independent panel with industry and educational expertise, having regard to published selection criteria and following a competitive tendering process. Springboard is managed by the Higher Education Authority and relevant contact details are available on the HEA website www.hea.ie.

Over the last number of years a network of innovation centres and technology transfer offices has been established across the higher education sector with the support of Enterprise Ireland. These centres and offices provide expert advice, business supports, tailored facilities and access to businesses and investors. Further details on these centres and the facilities available can be found on higher education institutions' websites.

Higher Education Institutions Expenditure

 82. Deputy Ciarán Lynch Information on Ciaran Lynch Zoom on Ciaran Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn in regard to each separately of the seven universities and 14 institutes of technology, the percentage of staff that are academics and-or lecturers and the percentage that are administrators; the contracted working week for administrators in each institution; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [21603/13]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn The attached table shows the data available in my Department for the percentage of Academic and Non-Academic staff employed in each of the seven universities and 14 institutes of technology at 31st March 2013 as reported by the institutions to the Higher Education Authority. The institutions are not required to provide a further breakdown of the data by grade or function. There is no generic contract for a working week for staff in the Higher Education Institutions. A variety of arrangements are in place across the sector. Details of contract hours for administrators in individual HEIs are not available in my Department.

Percentage of Academic to non-Academic Staff in the University and Institute of Technology Sectors - as at 31 March 2013

Institute Academic Staff Non-Academic Staff
- % of Total % of Total
Athlone IT 52.4 47.6
Blanchardstown IT 60.7 39.3
Cork IT 59.6 40.4
IT Carlow 59.6 40.4
Dublin IT 53.9 46.1
IADT Dun Laoghaire 61.5 38.5
Dundalk IT 58.1 41.9
Galway Mayo IT 56.6 43.4
Limerick IT 62.3 37.7
Tipperary Institute 57.2 42.8
Letterkenny IT 53.9 46.1
IT Sligo 64.1 35.9
IT Tallaght 61.0 39.0
IT Tralee 61.3 38.7
Waterford IT 56.0 44.0
Total for all Institutes 57.5 42.5
University Academic Staff Non-Academic Staff
- % of Total % of Total
University College Dublin 45.8 54.2
University College Cork 51.0 49.0
NUI Galway 59.3 40.7
NUI Maynooth 56.8 43.2
Trinity College Dublin 48.8 51.2
University of Limerick 56.1 43.9
Dublin City University 61.2 38.8
Total of 7 Universities 52.4 47.6

Special Educational Needs Services Provision

 83. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn if he intends to review the situation whereby children with Down's syndrome are unable to access the maximum allocation of resource hours; if he will review Spec Ed 02/05 to ensure that children with Down's syndrome are recognised in their own right; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21607/13]

 96. Deputy Seán Kyne Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn if he will confirm his Department's current classification of Down's syndrome; if he shares the view that stipulations contained in the Special Education circular 02/05 are unintentionally preventing access to resource teaching hours. [21864/13]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 96 together.

The Deputy will be aware of this Government's ongoing commitment to ensuring that all children with special educational needs, including children with Down syndrome, can have access to an education appropriate to their needs. The policy of my Department is to secure the maximum possible level of inclusion of students with special educational needs in mainstream primary and post-primary schools, or where a special school or special class placement may be required to ensure such placements are provided for.

Pupils with Down syndrome attending mainstream schools may receive additional teaching support in primary schools, either under the terms of the General Allocation Model (GAM) of teaching supports, if the pupil's educational psychological assessment places the pupil in the mild general learning disability/high incidence disability category, or through an allocation of individual additional resource teaching hours which are allocated by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), if the child is assessed as being within the low incidence category of special need, as defined by my Department's Circular Sp Ed 02/05.

Pupils with Down syndrome may be allocated resources under the category of mild general learning disability, or under the categories of moderate general learning difficulty or Assessed Syndrome, in conjunction with another Low Incidence disability. There is not presently a distinct disability category of Down syndrome for resource allocation purposes.

I have asked the National Council for Special Education to provide me with policy advice on the issue of whether Down syndrome should be reclassified as a low incidence disability in all instances, regardless of assessed cognitive ability. This advice will be included in the NCSE's comprehensive policy advice on how the education system can best support children with special educational needs which is currently in preparation and which is expected in the coming weeks.


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