Dáil Éireann - Volume 498 - 16 December, 1998

Private Notice Questions. - Tax Assessments.

Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Finance the plans, if any, he has to introduce legislation as a matter of urgency to ensure that when a tribunal of inquiry establishes that an individual has evaded tax, such tax will be collected by the Revenue Commissioners in view of the public outrage arising from the recent decision of the Appeals Commissioners and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. McDowell asked the Minister for Finance the steps, if any, he will take to ensure that public confidence in our tax collection system is maintained following the recent judgment by the Appeals Commissioners regarding the tax affairs of Mr. Charles J. Haughey arising from the report of the McCracken tribunal.

Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Finance the steps, if any, he will take to restore public confidence in the tax collection system in view of the public concern arising from a decision of an Appeals Commissioners to dismiss an assessment of £2 million made by the Revenue Commissioners in the case of the former Taoiseach, Mr. Charles J. Haughey, arising from hearings at the McCracken tribunal and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): I propose to take all the questions together.

I acknowledge the strength of feeling in the House on this issue. Nonetheless, as all Deputies will be aware, the issue of an individual's tax affairs is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners to pursue. I do not have any detailed information on the case in question other than what appeared in the newspapers. I have not asked the Revenue Commissioners for details of an individual tax case nor do I intend to do so.

The House will know that it is not the practice to comment on individual cases, especially where it is likely there will be further proceedings which it would be unwise to prejudice. Deputies are already aware that the Revenue Commissioners are pursuing various taxation matters arising from the report of the McCracken tribunal.

[1193] Deputies expressed outrage at the ruling by the Appeals Commissioners in this case. I remind the House that the appeals system is there for all taxpayers to use in appealing a tax assessment. The law regards all persons equally when it comes to individual rights and these rights must be respected. The appeals system has been extended to most tax heads in the past few Finance Bills and the appeals procedure has been simplified. My predecessor was anxious to improve the effectiveness of the appeals procedure in the general interest of the tax system. The Appeals Commissioners are independent in the exercise of their duty, which is a quasi-judicial one. This fact must be underlined.

As regards the publication of the Appeals Commissioners' decisions, I provided for this in the 1998 Finance Act. The Appeals Commissioners may make arrangements for the publication of reports of such determinations by them as they consider appropriate.

A decision of the Appeals Commissioners can be appealed to the Circuit Court for a full rehearing of the case, to the High Court on a point of law and ultimately to the Supreme Court. It is a matter entirely for the Revenue Commissioners to make an appeal. I understand it is standard Revenue practice where considerable tax is at risk or where points of tax principle are involved for Revenue to vigorously pursue such liabilities and matters through the courts. Where the issues are complex it is rare for the appeal Commissioner's decision to be taken as final by either side. It can be taken that the Revenue Commissioners will appeal this case through the courts in keeping with their normal practice.

On the general issue of Revenue powers, I have a function in this in relation to changes in the law. As I made clear in my Budget Statement of 2 December, both Revenue and my Department have been actively reviewing the existing powers which Revenue have in combating tax evasion. This review involves looking at extra powers in relation to access to bank accounts and the examination of the affairs of banking institutions. Revenue powers were last increased significantly in 1992, with further additions in 1993 and 1995. I made it clear on many occasions that all reasonable or necessary measures will be pursued to counter tax evasion. I also indicated that the Revenue Commissioners have recently made proposals to me in this regard and I will examine these in the context of the Finance Bill, 1999.

I state again the Government's resolve to take such measures — whether arising out of tribunal reports or otherwise — as are needed and as are appropriate to ensure that tax liabilities can be reasonably and effectively pursued. Tax evasion is cheating, effectively putting one's hands into another taxpayer's pocket. As for the case in question, the law is there for the further pursuit of the tax liability and it is best for the law to take its course. [1194]

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I intend to call the Deputies in the order in which their questions were submitted to An Ceann Comhairle's office.

Mr. Noonan: I was not aware that would be the case.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair acts on the list in front of him.

Mr. Gormley: On a point of order, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I also tabled a question. Will I get an opportunity to ask questions?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy will have an opportunity to ask a supplementary question but it would not be appropriate to ask a question when the answer is already given by the Minister.

Mr. Gormley: I tabled a Private Notice Question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That is correct. Following the conclusion of Question Time at 4.15 p.m., the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Séamus Brennan, moved a motion which was agreed. Three other Members of the House asked questions and——

Mr. Gormley: I ask that I be allowed a little latitude, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will allow latitude but we cannot suspend the Sitting of the House to wait on a Deputy to come in to ask a question.

Mr. Rabbitte: Is the Minister for Finance aware the Taoiseach confirmed to me this morning that the appeals commissioner who made this decision in respect of this case is his brother-in-law? Will he confirm to the House the manner in which that appointment was made? Will he tell the House that the appointment was made during the inter-regnum on 9 December 1992 when the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Bertie Ahern, was on his way out of office? Will he confirm that the appointment was not announced until 22 January 1993? Will he note that, although the appointment was made on 9 December 1992, the Government was not elected until 12 January 1993?

I ask him to join me in deploring the message which this is sending to taxpayers, that the man who is the brother-in-law of the Taoiseach should be adjudicating on the tax affairs——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I would ask the Deputy to refrain from casting any reflection on public servants who are not in the House.

Mr. Allen: He is not.

Mr. Yates: That is what the whole matter is about. [1195]

Mr. Rabbitte: I do not intend to cast any reflection; I merely ask the Minister to agree with me that it is sending out the wrong message to the taxpayers that the brother-in-law of the current Leader of Fianna Fáil should adjudicate on the tax affairs of the former Leader of Fianna Fáil.

Will he explain to the House and to the taxpayers outside how this appeal could have been successful before the Appeals Commissioner? Is it not the case that, in paragraph five of his statement appended to the McCracken findings, former Deputy Haughey conceded that he had received £1.3 million from the disponer in this case? How is it conceivable that since Mr. Haughey admitted receiving the money he should have been found to have had no tax liability on it? Is it not the case that the disponer was known to us all as being Mr. Ben Dunne? Is it not the case that it is known that he is domiciled in this jurisdiction? Therefore, how could an Appeals Commissioner have brought home a verdict that there is no tax liability in this instance?

Furthermore, why did the Revenue Commissioners rely solely, according to reports, on the findings of the McCracken tribunal? Why did they not assemble their own case based on the findings of the McCracken tribunal? Is it to the Circuit Court, where matters of fact and law can be established, that the Revenue Commissioners propose to appeal or is it directly to the High Court?

What is the Minister's view, having regard to how cavalier he has been in the past about tax evasion matters, of a former Taoiseach playing ducks and drakes with us now in retirement in the same fashion as he played ducks and drakes with us when he was a Member of this House?

Mr. McCreevy: As to the status of the Taoiseach's relations with other people, I know no more than what that Taoiseach said this morning, that one of the Appeal Commissioner's is his brother-in-law.

I can answer the Deputy's questions as to when these people were appointed. There are two Appeals Commissioners. Mr. R. F. Kelly, a chartered accountant who formerly operated as a private consultant in the area of retail banking, was appointed on 9 December 1992. Notice of his appointment was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 8 January 1993. The second Appeals Commissioner, Mr. J. F. O'Callaghan, a senior tax consultant and formerly of Farrell, Grant and Sparks, Chartered Accountants, was also appointed on 9 December 1992. Notice of his appointment was also laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 8 January 1993. I can tell the Deputy anything he wants to know about the salary of an Appeals Commissioner, grade, etc.

It is not correct for Members of this House to use the old sly way of impugning a person's integrity, saying something and then saying that of course we are not impugning that person's integrity. That is typical of the slur which comes from the recently constituted workers' party, Democratic [1196] Left or whatever they are calling themselves as and from 1 February.

Mr. Rabbitte: Answer the question.

Mr. Howlin: Stop digging.

Mr. D. Ahern: It is not the first time the Deputy did it.

Mr. McCreevy: In the part of the country from which I come, if one wants to make an allegation, one says it. One does not do it in the coward's way. If the Deputy wants to make the allegation, he should say it and should not do it in the usual cowardly fashion for which he has received many headlines over the years.

Mr. Rabbitte: Whatever I am, I am not a coward.

Mr. McCreevy: I reject totally the allegation that I have a cavalier attitude to tax evasion. I have stated repeatedly in this House and outside that tax evasion is the same as cheating. It is the same as stealing money from another person's pocket.

On the questions the Deputy asked as to the basis on which the Appeals Commissioners arrived at this decision, as I pointed out on this and on previous occasions, and as is known to everybody in this House, particularly former Ministers for Finance, Ministers for Finance do not get involved in individual tax cases.

Mr. Allen: That is outrageous.

Mr. Noonan: In view of the fact that when the Revenue go to the Circuit Court the case will be held in camera, will the Minister ensure the ruling is now published in accordance with the provisions of the Finance Act, 1998?

Is the Minister aware of the widespread public view that Mr. Kelly, the Taoiseach's brother-in-law, acted imprudently by not allowing his colleague, Mr. O'Callaghan, to take the Haughey appeal case? Is he aware of the precedent at the time of the Arms Trial where Judge Andreas Ó Caoimh disqualified himself from the hearing because of his close connections with Fianna Fáil and, in particular, Mr. Haughey?

Is the Minister for Finance aware of the views expressed by Judge McCracken, that the results of his investigation was that the tribunal became satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that all of the moneys paid by Mr. Dunne were received by, or on behalf of, Mr. Charles Haughey for his benefit or in one case for a member of his family? In view of that statement in the McCracken report, can the Minister explain how Mr. Kelly came to a different conclusion?

Mr. McCreevy: I have no knowledge of how the Appeals Commissioner came to this or any other decision. That is not the function of the Minister for Finance.

[1197] The Deputy has made allegations about the competence of the Appeals Commissioners and why one commissioner made a decision rather than another. That is a matter for the Appeals Commissioners and the Revenue Commissioners.

Mr. McDowell: I will start with what I suppose is a point of order. The Minister hides behind the suggestion that Ministers for Finance do not comment on individual cases. However, I will draw a clear analogy. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has no role in cases which appear before the courts. However, on a number of occasions this House has rightly discussed the public implications of particular judgments. In those circumstances, I suggest to the Minister that he is in dereliction of his duty if he does not comment on the clear public implications of a case which is causing considerable public disquiet.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should ask a question.

Mr. McDowell: It is not adequate for the Minister to hide behind a cloak of secrecy. Does he agree that it should be his business to comment on the public implications of this case? Does he also agree that it is ironic that it was the Taoiseach who first said that we need a Lester Pigott and we now seem to have a Houdini in Mr. Haughey, who seems impregnable and beyond the law in every case? Does he agree that it will be necessary to publish the report of the commissioner as soon as possible? As a matter of general principle, can he indicate how the Revenue Commissioners approach cases of this kind and how cases are designated to a particular commissioner? Is it done by lot or rota? Can he indicate whether expert advice was taken in this case or whether he would expect that it would be taken in cases of this kind? Most importantly, can he indicate his view as to the status of the judgments of tribunals — the McCracken tribunal which is completed and the tribunals currently under way?

Mr. McCreevy: Since the foundation of the State and since the Revenue Commissioners were established, a Minister for Finance has not ever commented on an individual tax case, nor would it be appropriate to do so. It would not be appropriate to have the Department of Finance and the Minister investigating any tax case. The function of the Minister for Finance is to bring appropriate laws before the House in the Finance Bill. It is the job of the Revenue Commissioners to implement the law for everyone. That means it must be implemented for the person referred to in today's case, as it would be for any Member of this House or any individual.

Deputy McDowell should know the law better than some of his colleagues. That is the way the law is and should be operated. I will not turn the Minister and the Department of Finance into the [1198] downtown office of the Revenue Commissioners to pursue some cases and not others.

Mr. Quinn: That is not what we are asking the Minister to do.

Mr. McCreevy: Over a period of years the law has been strengthened in a number of taxation areas. If the Revenue Commissioners come forward with other suggestions on how the law needs to be improved, I will give that further consideration. I am sure the House would pass those suggestions into law. Even if I wanted to know, I would not be told about an individual tax case and I would not wish it to be any other way. That is the way it has been and will continue to be under my stewardship. If one of my successors wishes to bring proposals before the Houses then he or she can do so. However, that will remain the position while I am Minister for Finance.

Mr. Gormley: Does the Minister accept that this unseemly episode has the stench of golden circles and nepotism? Can he understand the anger among compliant taxpayers who see that those who break the law and cheat on their taxes can get away with it if they are rich enough and well-connected enough? In his capacity as an accountant, if someone came to the Minister and said they had a gift of £1.3 million, would he not point out to them that they would owe tax on that sum? Therefore, can he not say in his capacity as an accountant that this is out of order? Will he not make a public statement asking that the ruling be published as we need to know what is involved?

Mr. McCreevy: On my own initiative, I included in the Finance Bill, 1998, the provision that the decisions of the Appeals Commissioners could be published. That is in train and the provisions exist to achieve that. However, when they get around to publishing the decisions of Appeals Commissioners, the Revenue Commissioners will not be publishing details of individual tax cases. The purpose of the request by tax practitioners over the years to have Appeals Commissioners' rulings published was to see the general points of principle on which our tax laws were being implemented by the Appeals Commissioners. It is not the intention that they would specify what Mr. X owed. That is not the intention of the publication procedures as enunciated in this year's Finance Act.

The Deputy seems to give the impression that this is the end of this case. However, as he asked me a question in my role as a former tax practitioner, I will give an answer as to what is likely to happen in this case. In any such case of capital acquisitions tax, which seems to be what is involved in this case, 99 per cent of cases are appealed by either side. Cases can be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court by either side. I assume that is bound to happen in this case. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the tax code [1199] knows that this is the first step in a long process. This is not the end of the matter. I offer that as free advice to the Deputy.

Mr. Rabbitte: Does the Minister agree that he is merely going through the motions because he has been forced into the House by the Progressive Democrats following the Whips meeting today?

Mr. O'Dea: More lies.

Mr. Rabbitte: Does the Minister acknowledge the gravity of this situation and will he abandon the oul' blather and answer the following questions?

Mr. McCreevy: On a point of order, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. As I understand it, the Ceann Comhairle's office allowed these Private Notice Questions. Is that not correct? Deputy Rabbitte has impugned your integrity, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. He has said that the Progressive Democrats forced this issue into the House. This was agreed by the Ceann Comhairle and the Deputy should withdraw that allegation as it is not correct.

Mr. Allen: Where are the Progressive Democrats?

Mr. Yates: Where is the Minister if the Progressive Democrats pull the rug?

Mr. Finucane: Where is Deputy Harney?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Rabbitte without interruption.

Mr. Rabbitte: I too believe in the tooth fairy.

Mr. O'Dea: The Deputy is the tooth fairy.

Mr. Rabbitte: This is not funny and the Government's faces tell the story. We are agreed on that much. When the Progressive Democrats are in their offices watching the screen, they do not think it is funny either.

Let me ask the Minister a couple of questions. Will the appeal that is contemplated be to the Circuit Court or to the High Court, the distinction being that in the Circuit Court matters of fact as well as law can be adjudicated upon? Has the Minister asked the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners why the Revenue Commissioners relied solely on the McCracken report in defending this appeal from Mr. Haughey? Let me put the following to the Minister when he derides my earlier remarks. Let us suppose the tax affairs of Deputy Lowry were before an Appeals Commissioner, that he was assessed as having no tax liability, and that it emerged that the Appeals Commissioner was the brother-in-law of Deputy John Bruton. What does the Minister think he [1200] and the motley crew behind him would be saying in this House?

Mrs. Owen: Or Deputy Harney?

Mr. Cowen: The Deputy should apply his standards to himself.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Before the Minister replies, I ask Deputies to refrain from drawing an inference from the relationship of any Member of the House and a professional person. Professional people can do their duty, and we expect them to do their duty, and their relationship to a Member of this House, or to anybody else outside it, should not impugn their integrity. I ask Members to accept that.


Mr. McCreevy: Deputy Rabbitte should not impute the same standards to other Members of the House as are obviously inherent in his own party and in his own character. As I pointed out in my reply, this matter can be appealed to other courts.

Mr. Rabbitte: I am asking to which court the Minister is appealing. He should stop blathering.

Mr. McCreevy: The Deputy's ignorance of tax law is almost as great as his ignorance of good manners. On capital acquisitions tax cases, findings by the Appeal Commissioners can be appealed to the Circuit Court on both a point of law and on the facts.

Mr. Rabbitte: I just said that.

Mr. McCreevy: On other tax cases one can appeal only on a point of law to a higher court.

Mr. Rabbitte: That was the question. What is the answer?

Mr. McCreevy: As for what will happen in this case, it is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners. It will be dealt with by them. It has nothing to do with the Minister for Finance.

Mrs. Owen: Pontius Pilate.

Mr. Allen: That is the way the Mafia rule.

Mr. Noonan: The Minister for Finance is maintaining the position that it is not within his competence to answer for either the Revenue Commissioners or the Appeal Commissioners on an individual tax case. The actions of his predecessor as Minister for Finance are within his competence to answer. He has control of the files and he is responsible to this House. When was Mr. Kelly appointed? Was it after the 1992 election result and before the Government was formed? What were the considerations which led to the appointment as Appeals Commissioner of a man who [1201] was a qualified accountant with expertise in retail banking rather than in taxation matters through a political appointment process? Does the Minister not think it would have been prudent for the Minister for Finance of the day to have taken extra precautions when appointing his brother-in-law to this politically appointed post? Has the Minister checked the files to see what political representations were made on behalf of Mr. Kelly at the time of his appointment, what process was gone through before his appointment was ratified by the incoming Government, together with the appointment of Mr. John O'Callaghan, Mr. Greg Sparks's partner, and could the Minister throw light on the political sequence which led to the making and the confirming of these two political appointments? That is on the file. It is within the Minister's competence to answer to the House on it. He has refused to answer Deputy Rabbitte. Will he answer me now?

Mr. McCreevy: I have not refused to answer any of Deputy Rabbitte's questions which relate to my competence. Both Mr. Kelly and Mr. O'Callaghan were appointed on 9 December 1992. Notice of the appointments of Mr. Kelly and Mr. O'Callaghan was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 8 January 1993.

Mrs. Owen: When was the Government formed?

Mr. Noonan: What political representations are on the file? Has the Minister checked?

Mr. McCreevy: I have not checked the file.

Mr. Noonan: Will the Minister check?

Mr. McCreevy: I do not normally check the files of any of my predecessors, but if it will satisfy the Deputy, I will do so.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Minister should have done that before he came in here this morning.

Mr. McCreevy: I have been in the Seanad most of the day dealing with the Comptroller and Auditor General Bill, as Deputy Noonan will testify.

A Deputy: That finished at 2.00 p.m.

Mr. J. Bruton: It was an obvious question.


Mr. J. Bruton: There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Mr. McDowell: Has the Minister spoken or has he caused anybody else to speak with the Revenue Commissioners today in relation to this case? I would like to be clear about that before we go any further. [1202]

Mr. McCreevy: This is about the 54th time in the past year and a half that I have replied to this question. I do not communicate with the Revenue Commissioners on an individual taxpayer's affairs. Nor do I intend to so do.

Mr. McDowell: We seem to be having some difficulty in understanding each other. I do not expect the Minister to show a prurient interest in this case, but I do expect him to answer to this House on the public policy implications of it.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Mr. McDowell: That is surely the point because the Minister is responsible for public policy.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should ask a question.

Mr. McDowell: I am concerned about the status of the McCracken report and whether it can be used or was used in this case as the basis of the Revenue assessment. It is perfectly reasonable and does not suggest prurient interest in Mr. Haughey's affairs to ask what is the status of that tribunal report and its findings in respect of the tax liability.

Mr. McCreevy: It is a perfectly legitimate question that should be put to the Revenue Commissioners, not to me, because our tax laws are quite clear and explicit. They are laid down by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, and the implementation of same is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners. Nothing else falls within the remit of the Minister for Finance.

Mr. McDowell: Let me put something to the Minister which he will agree does fall within his remit. If it is the case that the findings of this tribunal or the findings of any future tribunals are not admissible as accepted fact for the purpose of Revenue Commissioners' appeals, will the Minister amend the Finance Bill to ensure that they are accepted for that purpose in future?

Mr. McCreevy: That is a perfectly legitimate question.

Mr. Quinn: The Minister might answer it.

Mr. McCreevy: Deputy Quinn was Minister for Finance. He should know more than he pretends. The question of what is proper to a tribunal under the tribunals of inquiry Act is a matter for that Act. Subject to advice, providing that the findings of a tribunal of inquiry should be admissible in the context of the tax laws would present some difficulty, but I am open to persuasion on it. I would remind Deputy McDowell that last night in discussing the Comptroller and Auditor General Bill, this point was raised in another context. The question of evidence found during that procedure being used in other fora was raised on that Bill. The matter mentioned by the Deputy [1203] can be addressed further in the context of tribunals of inquiry and of the laws of the State regarding taxation. If the Houses of the Oireachtas feel we should go down a particular road and hold that the findings of a tribunal of inquiry must be taken as prima facie evidence of wrongdoing in a particular area, I am sure they will give that ample consideration in time to come.

Mr. Noonan: Could the Minister for Finance tell us how, of all the people in this city who are qualified in matters of taxation, the Taoiseach came to select Mr. Ronan Kelly? Is Mr. Ronan Kelly——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I would ask the Deputy to desist from drawing inferences.

Mr. Allen: It is a fair question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: In the context of the questions that are submitted, inferences can be drawn from the manner in which questions are being asked and statements made in the House about the integrity of a public servant. We cannot have that in this House.

Mr. Noonan: Is there anything on the appointment file which would suggest that Mr. Haughey and Mr. Kelly were personally known to each other? Is there anything on the file that suggests that Mr. Kelly should have disqualified himself from hearing this case when it came before him and should have passed it to his colleague, Mr. O'Callaghan?

Mr. McCreevy: I do not know what happens in the internal workings of the Revenue Commissioners.

Mr. Noonan: It is an appointment file.

Mr. J. Bruton: It is a Department of Finance file.

Mr. McCreevy: Off the top of my head, I cannot think of an analogous case as regards commissioners. The Revenue Commissioners are independent of the Appeals Commissioners. When the Land Commission existed, there were land commissioners. I recall, from the foremost reaches of my mind——


Mr. McCreevy: ——that in 1977 when the former Deputy Brendan Toal lost his seat in June, before the Dáil sat he was appointed Land Commissioner. I found Mr. Toal to be an exemplary Land Commissioner and I impugn none of his actions.

[1204] (Interruptions.)

Mr. Connaughton: He paid his taxes.

Mr. Noonan: It was not the Taoiseach's brother-in-law who gave away £2 million in land when he was a commissioner.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask the House to accept, as is the tradition here, that the fact that a person happens to be related to a Member of the House in no way reflects on his or her professional integrity.

Mr. D. Ahern: They will not repeat it outside the House.

Mr. Noonan: I am following your advice, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. However, the appointment of Mr. Kelly was political and was made by the Minister of Finance.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are not discussing Mr. Kelly's appointment.

Mr. Noonan: I am trying to find out the qualifications which Mr. Kelly had for this job. Why, above all the tax personnel in this city, was Mr. Kelly selected?

Mr. Belton: He should have stepped aside.

Mr. Noonan: Why did he not do the normal thing, of which we are all aware, as regards ethics in public office? If there is any suggestion of a conflict of interest, one declares it and one steps aside from the issue. Why was that procedure not followed?

Mr. Cowen: What was his conflict of interest?

Mr. Rabbitte: I reiterate Deputy Noonan's question and ask the Minister to reply to it. Does the Minister have on his file any explanation as to why this salaried post in the public service was not advertised? Does he understand that the answers given in this debate are not just of importance to the Deputies on this side of the House but also to the four absent Deputies watching this on the monitor?

Mr. D. Ahern: There will be no rocking of the foundations on this one.

Mr. Rabbitte: It will rock the foundations of this Government — Deputy Ahern should not worry about that.

Mr. Cowen: The Deputy is a crystal ball gazer.

Mr. Rabbitte: As regards the admission in paragraph (5) of the ninth schedule to the McCracken report, where Mr. Haughey acknowledged receiving £1.3 million from a known donor, I ask the Minister to at least have the decency to explain to compliant taxpayers why he [1205] was assessed to have no liability on receipt of that gift?

Since this controversy broke today, has the Minister for Finance spoken to the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners? Has he asked the Revenue Commissioners how it managed to make a bags of defending an open and shut case before the appeals commissioner? It is not a laughing matter.

Mr. McCreevy: The Deputy's stupidity regularly makes me laugh.

Mr. Howlin: The Minister is now insulting Members of the House.

Mr. McCreevy: I have answered that question on four occasions. I have not spoken to the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners about this case nor do I intend to do so as regards any individual tax case.

Mr. Rabbitte: You are not fit for that office.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask Deputy Rabbitte to resume his seat and allow the Minister to conclude his reply.

Mr. Cowen: What is Deputy Rabbitte fit for? What about all the allegations thrown out of tribunals of inquiry that cost the taxpayer millions?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister without interruption.

Mr. McCreevy: I know nothing of the evidence adduced in this case before the appeals commissioner, nor is it my business to find out.

Mr. Yates: The dogs on the street know.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will take two brief final supplementaries from Deputies Joe Higgins and Gormley and a final reply from the Minister.

Mr. Stagg: There is no limit on the amount of time we can spend on this question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is entirely at the discretion of the Chair as many Members feel we have spent too long on this question. There is other business on today's Order Paper. Normally half an hour is allocated to Private Notice Questions.

Mr. Quinn: This is not a normal case.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We have already spent almost 45 minutes on this one.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): These are not normal times, it seems we are back to GUBU. Is the Minister aware of the huge unease and outrage as a result of this case? Will he try to express the anger of the people whose interests he is supposed [1206] to defend as the Minister for Finance, which he does not seem to be doing? Does he not understand that to the public this seems like evidence of a further double standard on taxation matters?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: A brief supplementary, Deputy.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): A woman addicted to heroin who steals a handbag receives a sentence of six years in jail.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Will the Deputy ask a brief supplementary? We are drawing this question to a conclusion. If the Deputy wishes to ask a question, he must do so.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Would it be better for appeals commissioners to be drawn from the public service than from private practice where their previous profession may have been to maximise tax avoidance on behalf of wealthy individuals? They may find it difficult to shake off the habit, even after being appointed.

Mr. Gormley: The Minister has not properly explained the circumstances in which Mr. Kelly was appointed. Will he tell us the circumstances in which Mr. Kelly would be dismissed?

Mr. Stagg: On a point of order, a Leas Cheann-Comhairle, there is no provision in the Standing Orders of this House for you to group supplementary questions to the Minister.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is at my discretion.

Mr. Stagg: You are preventing Members getting a direct answer from the Minister. I protest and ask you to desist from doing so.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair has no difficulty with your request. However, I wish to make it clear that I was prepared to take final supplementaries from Deputies Seán Ryan and Noonan and a final reply from the Minister. If Deputy Stagg would prefer, I will call the question to a halt. I am taking a final reply from the Minister now.

Mr. Stagg: I do not accept you are entitled to make any such rulings.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am entitled to rule that the question concludes after 45 minutes.

Mr. Stagg: You are not entitled to cut off a debate in mid-stream.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask you to withdraw that remark.

Mr. Stagg: I will not. I have made it to you privately as well as in the House. You are wrong. [1207]

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am referring to Deputy Stagg's remark about the Chair behaving in a manner which is unfair to Members. I am trying to draw this debate to a conclusion and am within my rights to do so.

Mr. Stagg: It is unfair to prevent Members speaking. We are entitled to raise supplementary questions and get answers.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I cannot take Deputy Gormley's question. I will take the final reply from the Minister.


An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair has ruled. The question concludes after 45 minutes. We are not spending more than 45 minutes on the question.

Mr. Howlin: The House will decide.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The normal period of time for a Private Notice Question is half an hour. We are not spending the rest of the evening on this Private Notice Question.

Mr. Stagg: This is an abnormal situation.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will take questions from Deputies Gormley and Noonan.

Mr. Gormley: The Minister did not properly explain the circumstances in which Mr. Kelly was appointed. I want to know precisely in what circumstances he would be dismissed.

Mr. S. Ryan: Does the Minister accept that the effects of yesterday's decision could have major implications for other tribunals, such as the Flood tribunal? Is he prepared to amend the Finance Act to ensure loopholes are closed off?

Mr. Noonan: Has the Minister established whether the appointment of the two appeals commissioners required Cabinet approval? Was there a discussion on the matter in Cabinet? Did the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Ahern, inform the Cabinet that one of the appointees was his brother-in-law?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask the Minister for a final reply.

Mr. Stagg: On what basis is the Chair ruling that this will be the final reply?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair has always used discretion in terms of the length of time given to any question. The normal procedure is that a Private Notice Question lasts approximately half an hour. We have already spent 45 minutes on this question. [1208]

Mr. Stagg: Deputies are entitled to ask questions and receive individual replies.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: In accordance with Standing Orders it is a matter entirely for the Chair.

Mrs. Owen: Standing Orders does provide that.

Mr. Stagg: The Chair is deliberately in breach of Standing Orders.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I do not accept that.

Mr. McCreevy: The commissioners were appointed by the Minister for Finance under section 8(50) of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997. The original power was contained in the Income Tax Act, 1967. In appointing the appeals commissioners and the special commissioners of income tax, their former title, it has been the practice to appoint one from within the Office of the Revenue Commissioners with experience of income tax administration and knowledge of income tax law and two from outside the Civil Service, usually experienced barristers or chartered accountants.

Deputy Higgins asked a question about the appointment of appeals commissioners. It is within the remit of the Minister for Finance to appoint the commissioners. Deputy Gormley also asked a question about their appointment. Under section 8(57) of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, an appeals commissioner is required to make a statutory declaration upon taking office to the effect that he or she will carry out his or her duties under tax legislation in a proper manner and without favour, and that he or she will not disclose to any unauthorised person any matter contained in any schedule, statement, return or other document delivered to him or her under tax legislation.

Deputy Ryan raised a question regarding tribunals and possible changes in income tax law. As I have said repeatedly, the issue of additions to Revenue powers has been under consideration for some time and will be considered further in the run-up to the Finance Bill. One of the terms of reference given to the Moriarty tribunal is to make recommendations in this area.

What was Deputy Noonan's question?

Mr. Noonan: I asked if the matter was discussed at Cabinet and if the interest was explained.

Mr. McCreevy: According to the Act, appointments of appeals commissioners are made under the original Income Tax Act of 1967 and now the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, by the Minister for Finance. The appointment was made on 9 December 1992 and notice of his appointment was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 8 January 1993. I understand a parliamentary [1209] question on the matter was tabled somewhat later in 1993.

Mr. Shatter: Was it discussed in Cabinet?

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.