Loophole meant beneficiaries of tax amnesties could permanently avoid ever being named as tax dodgers

THE Department of Finance had to make a series of last minute changes in Budget 2017 to ensure tax dodgers could not use a series of loopholes to avoid being named and shamed by Revenue.

The Revenue Commissioners explained in internal emails how several members of the public had prevented publication of their name in the quarterly list of tax defaulters which they publish.

One loophole meant that if people made a voluntary disclosure, some of them could not be listed even if they ended up owing much more tax than they had originally admitted to.

A second loophole meant that people who did not make an agreement with Revenue over how much tax they owed could also avoid publication.

A third suggested that people who availed of tax amnesties in 1988 and 1993 could continue to dodge publication even if they went on to avoid tax again and got caught out.

An email sent to the Department of Finance by Revenue said that people were starting to take advantage of “unintended ambiguities” in the legislation.

In a submission, they said there were four areas of the law that were causing difficulties.

Where people made a disclosure of a small amount of tax, Revenue were then facing major difficulties in publishing details of that person if much larger scale evasion was later discovered.

They said: “We must exercise care in publishing the names of taxpayers if any doubt exists as to whether an exemption to publication does or does not apply.”

They also said people who had actually settled up with Revenue were being unfairly lumped in with people who had never made any payments.

“The effect of this is that the paying and the non-paying defaulter are treated the same, i.e. both are published without distinction,” the submission explained.

“This would appear not to be equitable and it reduces the transparency of the material published as it can make it appear that a case is now up to date with Revenue liabilities when that may not be the situation.”

A third problem also cropped up because of the highly controversial tax amnesties that Ireland offered in both 1988 and 1993.

Incredibly, the legislation appears to have left open the possibility that anybody who benefited from either amnesty could then remain exempt from publication permanently.

The submission said: “It would be clearly contrary to fairness and transparency if, having once made a settlement to which [either amnesty] … applied, the person became a person in whose case future settlements for tax defaults continued to fall within the publication exceptions.

“However, there is a clear danger based on the literal words of the [legislation] … that such a person could successfully challenge the publication of future settlements in their case.”

The final “administrative” issue arose because the Department of Finance had failed to change the threshold at which publication of a defaulter’s name occurs.

The threshold should have risen from €33,000 to €35,000 in 2015 – meaning some unfortunate tax defaulter with a €34,000 settlement could have ended up having their name wrongly published.

In an email response to Revenue, the Department of Finance said the four suggested changes may have come too late and that they would be “unlikely” to get approval ahead of the announcement of Budget 2017.

In response, a senior Revenue official Brian McCabe wrote: “Just to let you know that we are likely to ‘push’ on this. We don’t regard it as lower priority.”

A submission was then prepared for Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who agreed with all four proposals and signed off on them last October.

In a statement, the Revenue Commissioners said: “If there is a serious doubt about whether a taxpayer meets the criteria which obliges Revenue to publish a taxpayer’s details in the List of Defaulters, Revenue, generally, will not publish the taxpayer details.

“Following an enquiry by a taxpayer, Revenue had some concerns about certain unintended ambiguities in the law that could call into question our ability to publish taxpayers in particular circumstances.”

The Department of Finance said they had only become aware of the issues after receiving an email from Revenue last June.

They said: “[Revenue’s] submission was considered by the Department, who agreed that it was desirable to make the changes proposed, and it formed the basis of the Department’s submission to the Minister.

“The publication regime for tax defaulters, along with other sanctions and penalties, is considered by the Department and Revenue to be a very important component of the overall deterrence of tax evasion in a self-assessment based system.”

The FOI documents below

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Revenue warns government they may be squeezing smokers too hard if they keep increasing cigarette prices

THE government was warned it may be squeezing smokers too hard ahead of the latest price increase for cigarettes in the latest budget.

Taxing the old reliable might not actually yield as much tax as was hoped, according to the Revenue Commissioners, who voiced concerns people would either buy their cigarettes abroad or purchase illegally.

In a pre-budget submission prepared for Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, the 50 cent price rise introduced was predicted to yield an extra €65.2 million in excise duty.

However, a note of caution was sounded that prices may well be reaching the point at which consumers will stop buying cigarettes legally and within Ireland.

The submission said: “It should be noted that the Revenue Commissioners have expressed concerns that increases in excise may not lead to increased yields, as consumers are further incentivised to exit the tobacco products market in Ireland.”

Over the previous two years, the sale of illicit cigarettes had begun to increase from 11% to 12% according to Revenue surveys.

Another 6% of people bought their cigarettes abroad while on holidays or on short trips designed specifically to stock up their supplies.

Ireland imposed the second highest tax on tobacco in the EU, after only the UK. Total excise on 1,000 cigarettes in Ireland is €316.49, according to the documents, as compared to just €82.32 in Bulgaria where the rate was lowest.

The submission also highlighted a remarkable falloff in the numbers of people smoking from 28.3% of the population in 2003 to 19.2% last year.

However, those that are smoking are more likely to be using roll your own tobacco, which is more “lightly taxed” and cheaper than cigarettes.

Consumption of loose tobacco has almost quadrupled since 2008, according to the Departmental records, which were obtained under FOI.

The submission also suggested that after plain packaging for cigarettes is introduced, manufacturers may try to start introducing cheaper products and that a minimum tax on a packet may then be needed.

“There is no evidence of a significant move in this direction [yet],” it said, “so an increase in the minimum excise duty is not a priority at this time.”

The Department said in a statement: “The minister is aware that increases in excise duty on tobacco have been testing the boundaries of diminishing returns.

“However, to date, the revenues from tobacco have been holding up and the increases provided for in recent years … have been realised and the projections for 2016 point to a similar outcome.

“In relation to the illicit trade in cigarettes the submission outlines that the current estimate is 12% of cigarettes consumed in Ireland in 2015 were illicit. While this is up on the 11% in 2014, it must be viewed in the context of a steady downward trend since 2009 [when rate was 16%].”

One of the other old reliables, alcohol, remained untouched in this year’s budget and there were no increases in excise duty.

Minister Noonan was presented with one option on how an extra €138 million could be raised by increasing taxes by 10 cents on beer, cider, and spirits, and 50 cents on a bottle of wine.

However, he decided to leave the rates as they were despite a call from the drinks industry for a cut of 15% in excise rates on all alcohol.

He faced particular pressure to cut excise duties on wine, which has the highest rate in the EU, and is out of kilter with rates for beer.

Those higher rates have had little impact on demand for wine however, with 80 million litres purchased in 2014, as compared to 44.3 million litres in 2000.

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Senator David Norris looked for bigger office in Leinster House because he was longest serving politician there

A BIGGER space for the “father of the House”, a Senator’s files and personal belongings packed up and moved to reception, and a dispute between Fine Gael and the President’s daughter over vacating a room … just some of the teething problems in Leinster House after the general election.

Details of the moves were released by the Oireachtas as part of an FOI looking for all official requests for accommodation made by TDs, Senators, and their political parties since the start of the year.

Senator David Norris asked for a bigger office because of his longevity of service in Leinster House according to an email.

Sent to the Superintendent in charge of Leinster House, he wrote: “As Father of the House I would really appreciate if it would be possible to move to a larger room than the one I am currently in.

“I have been based in the Engineering Block for quite some time and feel that as I said, being Father of the House (almost thirty years a member) that now would be a good time to move to a larger space.”

Senator Norris did not return phone calls asking if he had been facilitated in his move.

Another Senator ended up without any office – let alone a large one – for several months after the election, the letters reveal.

Frances Black, the well-known singer, had been elected to the Seanad but was never provided a “permanent office” and was at first forced to hold meetings in the coffee dock.

“It’s difficult to have conversations without interruption, some of which are confidential,” she wrote in an email in May.

A couple of weeks later, she was again forced to email for an update having moved to a temporary office only to have her “limited files, laptops, coat, [and] personal items” packed up and moved to reception.

She explained that she was not fussy but just needed somewhere “as long as [it] has the required space and natural light”.

Senator Black said she was finally given a permanent home: “That was all resolved, I got my office in the end and I’m very happy in it.”

There was no such happy ending for the Anti Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit grouping after they complained of “overcrowded” rooms and insufficient parking space.

They did manage to get an extra room, according to a spokesman, and that has eased pressure on space but their parking difficulties were not addressed.

Sinn Féin were also left without a meeting room to call their home for several months after the election after being promised they would get the one that had been used by the Labour party, who had been decimated in the election.

In April, TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh wrote to complain that his attempts to get a suitable room were unresolved and that they were having to hold meetings away from Leinster House.

A couple of weeks later, party president Gerry Adams added his voice in a separate email saying it was “critically important” they were given a suitable room.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh explained: “After the election, Labour retained their parliamentary room and we ended up with a committee room. We had nothing for during the day time though, and sometimes we would have to go off-site for meetings. It was totally unsuitable.

“We were the bigger group and it had been agreed we would get one of the larger party rooms but they were delaying, delaying, and delaying. Eventually, it was sorted out in the summer and we were given Labour’s room.”

A separate battle also took place over the office of Senator Alice Mary Higgins, which Fine Gael wanted for themselves.

In an email sent by a party administrator, Fine Gael said: “The Whip [Regina Doherty] had a telephone conversation with Senator Higgins outlining to the Senator that she would have to vacate office 350 and move to alternative accommodation.

“My understanding is that Senator Alice Higgins has been offered two alternative offices … and has refused to take either.”

In an email outlining her position, Senator Higgins explained that she had previously accommodated a switch of offices.

“I believe therefore I have been very reasonable and I am not willing to move again,” she said. “I therefore again underscore that the delivery of crates and proposal to move has not been agreed to or acceptable. Moreover, no justification has been offered.”

Neither Senator Higgins or Fine Gael would comment on the background to their office disagreement.

 

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Why did this searing letter from Health Minister Simon Harris to the HSE Director General end up binned?

The great thing about using FOI for journalism is that it is document-based and documents, particularly official ones, are very hard to argue with.

The great weakness of using FOI for journalism is that it is document-based … and that does not always tell us why a document was created, changed, or in this particular instance never used.

In the records released by the Department of Health on discussions over the winter initiative, there were two letters prepared for Minister Simon Harris and intended for Tony O’Brien, the Director General of the HSE.

One of them has much stronger language, demanding personal assurances from Mr O’Brien and highly critical of how the HSE has been managing overcrowding so far. It was never sent.

draft-hse-letter-1

The other one is much more bland and was sent.

hse-letter-2

So, what changed?

The Department claims the “drafts were prepared as part of the normal process of internal Departmental communications”. But there seems to be something more at work here so answers (or even suggestions) on a postcard please.

 

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Health Minister says nobody could see overcrowding crisis coming … except for HSE who warned Department of Health and were asked to downplay risk

WITH a record 600+ people on trolleys in emergency rooms, it seems timely to post this set of documents on the so-called Winter Initiative to tackle overcrowding.

In the Irish Times this morning, Simon Harris was reported as saying nobody could have predicted things would be so bad.

Except the HSE had warned that the winter initiative could be ineffective if there was an outbreak of flu, bad weather and so on in their draft plan.

hse-warning

And what did the Department of Health do? They asked that this warning be moved prior to publication of the plan so they could emphasise the “positive effects” of the initiative.

The HSE had been keen to say that targets set in the initiative might not be met depending on circumstances.

In particular, they had warned of “unusually high demand” particularly among older people, the potential for flu, and the possible impact of weather conditions.

However, the Department of Health asked that the focus be taken off these provisions so that the plan’s publication would come across more positively.

An internal Departmental memo said: “We fully understand the need to include assumptions and dependencies, and you are of course correct in stating that unusually high demand and other factors could hypothetically have an adverse effect on delivery.

“However, we would advise, prior to publication, that this section might be moved to the end of the submission; we would prefer to focus on the very positive effects of the proposed initiative, towards the beginning of the document.”

In a separate email sent to the HSE, the Department suggested that these negative notes would be better placed “probably towards the end of the document”.

The first page could then be focused on the “objectives and benefits which the plan aims to achieve”.

Not everybody in the Department of Health was so confident about the plan however. One senior official noted in an email that the ability to secure and retain staff was going to present a major difficulty, particularly in providing additional acute beds.

“Based on recruitment track record this could be a major challenge in implementing these initiatives before year end,” wrote Fionnuala Duffy of the Acute Hospitals Policy Unit.

The warnings which the HSE tried to make prominent in the plan did eventually become reality and trolley count figures from the last few weeks have been appalling.

A pledge in the winter initiative had said there should be no more than 236 patients on trolleys on any given day while the plan was in place.

The Department of Health said that the initiative had been successful in some respects with the number of “delayed discharges” down from 638 at the start of the plan to 488 last week.

They said 4,100 people had made use of community intervention team services, meaning they had been able to avoid hospital or were discharged earlier.

In addition, new home care packages were provided, with 250 transitional care beds, as well as 28 step-down beds in Mercy Hospital in Cork and Beaumont in Dublin.

In a statement, the Department said they had fully acknowledged the importance of the “assumptions and dependencies” being included in the winter initiative plan.

They said: “They were moved to the back of the document for stylistic reasons and in order to ensure that focus would be maintained by the HSE and the Department on the key deliverables of this very important initiative.”

In terms of recruitment, they said the HSE continued to run campaigns and that efforts continued to recruit suitable staff to open new acute beds.

The full set of documents below. If you don’t have time to read through all of them, the most relevant are records 8, 21, 24 & 25.

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While four world cities agree to ban diesel vehicles – Ireland can’t even bring itself to raise taxes on the fuel

WE KNOW that four major world cities – Paris, Mexico, Madrid, and Athens – have agreed to ban all diesel cars and trucks from their centres by 2025.

And yet in Ireland, we cannot even bring ourselves to raise the tax a little bit and try and stop the rush by consumers towards buying diesel vehicles to avail of cheaper fuel.

This is the second year in a row that Minister Michael Noonan has been asked to consider the equalisation of duty on petrol and diesel.

This year, he again rejected the advice of his own civil servants, Transport Minister Shane Ross, and the urgings of the OECD to do something to stop the “dieselisation” of the Irish vehicle fleet.

We know that diesel is a dirtier fuel and a major contributor to air pollution and yet the choice is made to do nothing.

Here is a copy of the submission made to the minister. A similar option was presented to him last year and also ignored.

 

In a statement, the Department of Finance said: “The Budget 2017 Environmental taxes submission to the Minister outlined a number of options for raising revenue from mineral oil taxes, including the OECD recommendation around diesel equalisation.

“In the context of the Tax Strategy Group process a wide range of options are put forward across all tax heads. Ultimately, it is a matter for the Minister and the Government to decide on the composition of the budget taking into account of the cumulative impact of all the taxation and spending measures introduced on the cost of doing business and on wider society.”

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Wear and tear on the carpets and sofas, overheated rooms, no room for hosting ministers … the downsides of Ireland’s €46,000-a-month ambassador’s residence in Tokyo

IT MAY be costing €46,000 in rent every month … but that does not mean the Department of Foreign Affairs have to be happy with their ambassadorial residence in Tokyo.

Documents obtained under FOI have revealed that the Department are trying to develop a new “Ireland House” in the city and have even been offered a cut-price deal on land by the Japanese government.

Records show that the current residence – located in the upmarket suburb of Moto-Azabu – has a “number of disadvantages” despite its hefty price tag.

Among the complaints listed in an inspection report are shabby carpets and sofas, an awkward location, and rooms that get too hot when hosting functions.

Attempts are now underway to extricate the Irish government from its colossal rent bill in Tokyo and develop a new combined embassy and residence by buying up the site that is being offered by Japanese authorities below market value.

However, the proposal has met with a mixed response in the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure where concerns have been raised about its feasibility.

Details of an inspection report have revealed that the current residence is not ideal, despite its access to a spa, swimming pool, a roof garden and even a wine and port cellar.

The report explained: “The number of private rooms is small and they are sometimes pressed into service for official events especially around St Patrick’s Day or for high level visits. Storage space is limited and private space is used for furniture storage which means that visiting ministers cannot be accommodated in the residence if it is being used for official entertainment functions.”

The report also said that while private space was “sufficient” for the current Ambassador and her family, it would not accommodate a family with children.

In addition, it said: “The low ceilings in the apartment and limited storage space for visiting guests’ property are particularly evident at larger events such as the St Patrick’s Day reception, which can be uncomfortable and overheated.

“There are also increasingly noticeable signs of wear and tear on the carpets and sofa which may require attention soon.”

The report also pointed out that the residence can be difficult to find meaning guests frequently get lost en route to functions.

tokyo-residence

It wasn’t all bad with the €552,000-a-year residence however. The report said it had one of the few public areas of an Irish Residence, which could showcase “indigenous purpose-built Irish furniture”.

“The overall impression is tasteful,” said the report, “and gives a contemporary impression, pleasing to the Japanese aesthetic without being clichéd. It also has a pleasant outdoor space although given the local climate this can only be comfortably used for part of the year.”

In a business case prepared by the current Irish Ambassador Anne Barrington urging development of the new diplomatic complex, she explained that Ireland’s annual rent bill in Japan was €1.125 million.

That includes the €46,000-a-month for her residence, another €24,000-a-month for a separate Embassy building, and a further €143,000 in rent for “diplomatic colleagues”.

“For that €1 million investment,” she wrote, “Ireland has a very inadequate footprint in Japan, especially in comparison to our competitors.

“From the courtesy calls I made on more than 40 Ambassadors since arrival, it is clear that Ireland’s footprint is significantly below what is adequate.”

Plans for the new complex have not been universally welcomed however, according to a series of internal emails released as part of an FOI request.

In one email, a senior Foreign Affairs official complained that the Department of Public Expenditure were “not being very helpful”.

That was in response to correspondence where a senior official in Public Expenditure had said he did not think the proposal was “a runner”.

In that email, it was explained that the development would have to be treated as government spending in a single year, even though the cost would be spread over a number of years, and was “therefore not do-able”.

In an explanatory note, the Department said: “The Embassy in Tokyo has proposed that the state purchase a site and use a public private partnership model to develop a new Embassy/Ireland House and official and staff accommodation in Tokyo that would be funded through the rental stream.

“Were such a proposal to be agreed, this potential model could be used to allow the Department to develop new Embassy/Ireland House arrangements in other strategic partner country locations by making a capital investment.

“The proposal in Tokyo would significantly enhance Ireland’s footprint and prestige in this strategic market.”

A selection of the many many documents released as part of the FOI request.

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Which counties have the highest rates of marriage breakdown and where are divorce and judicial separation least likely?

COUNTY Carlow was the divorce capital of Ireland in 2015, according to the latest figures on marital breakdown from the Courts Service.

There were 68 divorce applications in the county last year, which was enough to give Carlow the highest rate in the Republic last year at around 120 applications per 100,000 people (based on Census 2016 figures).

Of less a surprise was the fact that Dublin was in second place with 1,552 applications for divorce last year, or one third of the national total (a rate of 115 applications per 100,000).

Next highest were Galway and Waterford, the only other two counties with a rate of divorce application higher than 100.

The rate of applications for divorce in counties like Carlow and Dublin is almost three times higher than in those counties with the lowest rates.

The figures showed that Monaghan and Donegal had the happiest marriages last year, with 42 and 50 applications for divorce per 100,000 people respectively.

In some of the smaller counties, the number of divorce applications could be counted on the fingers of both hands with just eight in Longford last year and six in Leitrim.

Overall, there were 4,290 divorce applications last year with 3,264 cases granted according to records compiled by the Courts Service from the circuit court.

A very small number of cases (it was 24 in 2014) are also dealt with by the High Court each year with the possibility also of cases reaching the Supreme Court.

Also recorded in the figures were the break-up of 75 civil partnerships – the effective precursor to same-sex marriage, which was introduced just five years ago.

The amount of such partnerships ending almost doubled last year from 38 in 2014 to 75, and it was Dublin which made up the bulk of the cases.

However, there were some odd spikes in certain counties like Tipperary and Kerry, which together recorded 18 of the 75 applications last year.

Many counties recorded none at all, including Roscommon, which famously was the only constituency in Ireland to vote no in last year’s marriage referendum.

Another 33 people applied for “nullity”, according to the figures, which is a declaration that the marriage was null and void and effectively had never happened.

However, no details of what these cases involved are provided but among the reasons why this would be allowed are lack of capacity, lack of consent, or that one or other party was “incapable of sexual intercourse”.

Despite the fact that divorce has been available now for more than two decades, many couples still choose to end their marriage by way of judicial separation.

Last year, 1,384 couples went down this road, which made up almost one quarter of all the applications for a formal break-up.

The counties where judicial separation was more popular are quite different from divorce with Kildare leading the way here.

Interestingly, the rate of application for judicial separation in Monaghan (39 per 100,000) was almost the same as that for divorce (42 per 100,000).

When applications for divorce and judicial separation are combined, Dublin has the highest rate of marriage breakdown ahead of Carlow and Galway.

Judicial separation can offer a simpler and less expensive way of allowing husbands and wives to part, particularly where they have no intention of remarrying.

Currently, couples must be separated for four years before qualifying for divorce although there is a proposal to reduce this to two years.

A private member’s bill has been put forward by Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan, a former family law solicitor, and appears to have gained widespread support.

In a statement, the Courts Service said: “Like all our courts, family law courts are not just busy, they also reflect what is going on throughout society: where the country and people are at.

“This is as clear in family law courts as in other venues which might deal with commerce, business, or debt. All courts are presented and deal with every aspect of human endeavour, disagreements, and frailty: none more so than the family law courts.”

My calculations based on the provisional figures from Census 2016:

divorce-stats

The full set of figures from the Courts Service are available here:

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Department of Taoiseach refuse Minister Charlie Flanagan’s request for €90k flight on government jet to Mongolia

FOREIGN Affairs minister Charlie Flanagan had his wings clipped by the Department of the Taoiseach after requesting use of the government jet for an epic voyage to a conference in Asia.

Mr Flanagan had sought use of the government’s €3,780-an-hour Learjet for a trip to Ulaanbaatar, which would have involved no less than eight separate individual flights.

The minister was planning to attend an Asia-Europe conference in Mongolia but was in a rush back to Europe to attend a meeting in Brussels, FOI documents have shown.

To try and fit both events in, the Department of Foreign Affairs came up with a convoluted flight plan which would have taken Mr Flanagan first to Finland, before two separate stop-overs in Russia, before final arrival in Mongolia fourteen hours later.

The government’s only executive aircraft – an €8 million Learjet – has a flying range that brings it just three hours in the air before it requires refuelling.

However, the proposal was refused by the Department of the Taoiseach and Mr Flanagan instead had to take scheduled flights to the event.

According to a proposed itinerary, Mr Flanagan would have left Baldonnel in Dublin at midnight on July 14 before flying for three hours to the Finnish capital Helsinki.

The aircraft would then refuel before taking off again and flying three hours east to the Russian city of Skytyvkar for a second stop-off.

The Learjet was then to be filled up again before departing on its next leg to Novosibirsk, also in Russia, where it would make its final layover on the long journey.

From there, it would be one final flight to Ulaanbaatar with arrival at 10pm local time for the summit, which was itself going to last just fifteen hours.

On the return voyage, the same arrangements were planned, which based on the Learjet’s hourly operating cost means the flight would have cost in excess of €90,000.

A permission request from the Department of Foreign Affairs explained how scheduled flights to Mongolia were “extremely limited”.

“The best available option would involve approximately 45 hours travel time, with the summit itself lasting 15 hours,” the request explained.

“Travelling by government jet would involve 26 hours travel time (including refuelling stops) … the Air Corps have been consulted and are confident that the proposal to travel by government jet is quite feasible.”

The Department also explained how Minister Flanagan was due back in Brussels not long after for a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers with the US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“This further limits commercial options,” they said. “Given the importance of the … summit and the complexity and limitations of commercial travel options, permission is kindly requested for use of the government jet.”

The Department of the Taoiseach do not however, appear to have been convinced by the case made and would not sanction use of the Learjet.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Minister Flanagan normally uses commercial airlines for official travel whenever possible.

In a statement, they said: “Use of the government jet is only considered when commercial options would impact significantly on the minister’s ability to fulfil his commitments internationally and domestically.

“In this case, permission for use of the government jet was sought but refused. Minister Flanagan therefore used scheduled, commercial flights for a Dublin-Istanbul-Bishbek-Ulaanbaatar and Ulaanbaatar-Beijing-Brussels round trip with a total travel time of some 34 hours.”

The Department of the Taoiseach said applications were judged according to the relative cost of travel versus possible scheduled alternatives.

They also take into account the need for flexibility for ministers who need to return home for Cabinet meetings, or important Dáil or Seanad debates.

A spokesman said: “It is not the practice to comment on specific applications from ministers for the use of the jet.”

The majority of requests for the government jet are granted, records released by the Department of the Taoiseach show.

Between March this year and early September, the Learjet was signed off for use on sixteen occasions by three different ministers: Michael Noonan, Frances Fitzgerald, and Charlie Flanagan.

On four occasions, requested flights did not go ahead for a variety of reasons, due to cancellation of travel plans and in the case of the proposed trip to Mongolia.

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TDs call for report into how much was lost through inheritance tax loophole for the wealthy

A FULL investigation into how much the Exchequer has lost through an inheritance tax loophole used by the wealthy has been called for by Opposition TDs.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has moved to tighten up legislation to stop high-wealth individuals handing over valuable properties to their children without paying a single cent in tax.

The loophole, the existence of which was first publicly revealed in a series of stories in the Sunday Times and on this blog earlier this year, has been in wide use for more than a decade and was being recommended by some wealth managers to their clients as a way to avoid inheritance tax.

After details of how the exemption was being abused were made public, it had been anticipated that the Department of Finance would move to close it down in this year’s Budget.

It did not appear though in the original version of the Finance Bill with one report saying it had been put on the “back-burner”.

However, the FOI documents relating to its widespread abuse were raised in the Dáil by three TDs this month: Independents Joan Collins and Tommy Broughan, and Labour’s Joan Burton.

Under pressure to explain why it had not been tackled, the Department of Finance added an amendment to the Finance Bill this week.

Now, Labour’s Joan Burton has tabled an amendment seeking a full report on the scale of abuse of the exemption.

She has looked for the Department of Finance to publish a report within a month of the Finance Bill being passed on how it has been used as a “means of avoiding inheritance tax”.

Joan Collins TD said she wanted the report to go further and examine how much has been lost and why previous opportunities were not taken to close it.

Ms Collins said: “I think we need to look back at the scale of this. We need to find out why this was created in the first place – who opened it up and allowed it to be abused.

“What’s really frustrating is that there were opportunities to close this down and it should have been tackled a long time ago.

“There is a huge public interest in finding out how much money has been lost over the years and in looking at why these loopholes were allowed in the first place.”

In a statement, the Department of Finance said they did not believe a further report into the operation of the scheme was warranted.

They said: “When the issue of the dwelling house exemption, and the possibility that it was being used as a means of tax-efficient wealth transfer, was raised with the Minister he asked that empirical evidence be gathered to assess this. Revenue carried out an investigation of the use of the exemption for this purpose.

“Informed by this report the Minister introduced an amendment to the Finance Bill at Committee Stage.”

They said that the investigation by Revenue had “conservatively” estimated the total loss to the exchequer at almost €19 million over the period from 2011 to 2015.

They said: “As this investigation has been carried out, and a significant modification of the exemption has been included in the Finance Bill, a further historical report regarding [its use] … would not seem to be warranted.”

The move to close off the loophole came after widespread evidence was gathered over a number of years by both the Department of Finance and Revenue Commissioners that the exemption was being “much abused”.

Earlier this year, a whistleblower from the wealth management industry met with Departmental officials to warn them of the scale of its misuse.

He told them in that previous eighteen months, use of the exemption had “taken off” and cited one case where parents had bought each of their four children properties worth in excess of €1 million and gifted them entirely tax-free.

The loophole could have been closed in 2014 when a detailed submission was prepared for Minister Michael Noonan warning him about the tax avoidance.

However, Minister Noonan – for reasons not explained in the official records – opted not to act then and the submission seeking change is bluntly marked “No”.

You can read more about this story here, here, and here.

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